Saturday, 14 February 2009
Spray from the media boat as the teams head upwind. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW ORACLE Racing.
by Keith Taylor
Switzerland triumphed in a face-off between America’s Cup winners Ed Baird and Russell Coutts this morning. Steering Switzerland’s Alinghi, Baird slammed the gate on Coutts and BMW Oracle on the start line and went on to win the challenger finals of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series 2-0.
Tomorrow Alinghi meets host Emirates Team New Zealand at the beginning of a two-day, seven-race regatta for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series trophy.
Today’s race marked the end of 13 days of high-energy match racing to select a finalist to race against Emirates Team New Zealand. The home team raced in two round robins with nine international teams from eight countries but sat out the sail-off series that finished today.
Yesterday, the Swiss team, skippered by Kiwi Brad Butterworth with Baird steering, pulled off a shock victory against Coutts and his American team. Coutts had led the entire race but lost by one second.
“You can always reflect on things that might have been and yesterday I think perhaps we got a little complacent at the end of the race,” Coutts said. “The finishing line was heavily biased towards the committee boat end and it is a pretty elementary thing to spot, but we sort of missed that, so that was our fatal error."
Today, with the threat of heavy wind this afternoon, racing started early in a 15-knot northerly and for Coutts and the Americans it was over before the start gun fired as Baird blocked his approach to the start line.
Oracle had enjoyed the advantage of the right hand entry at the five minute gun and engaged Alinghi in a couple of tight circles, the boats only metres apart. With 1:30 remaining, both boats were lining up for the start inside the starboard layline with Oracle astern and to weather.
As they approached the line Baird remained on starboard but pointed his bow straight at the committee boat. Coutts had nowhere to go and went head to wind as Baird bore off at speed right close to the committee boat.
Coutts could only follow slowly dead astern in his opponent's wake. The American boat was trailing by 40 metres just moments after the start and never threatened Alinghi as the margin opened out to 58 seconds at the second weather mark and over a minute at the finish.
“We were in quite a nice position today and had plenty of time to assess the options coming on the final approach to the start,” Coutts said ruefully. “We burned up a little too much time when we didn’t need to.”
BMW ORACLE Racing and Alinghi upwind during the Challenger Finals. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW ORACLE Racing.
Asked if problems with his boat’s trim tab affected steering during the start, Coutts acknowledged that there was a problem with its control chain a couple of minutes before the start. “That’s not why we lost though,” he said emphatically. “No excuses. We lost the race.”
Asked if he’d return to New Zealand for a similar event, Coutts said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the racing over the last few weeks. I think it's a fantastic event and I think in these economic times the idea that Louis Vuitton and Emirates Team New Zealand have come up with where all the teams race in borrowed boats, rather than shipping boats all around the world is frankly a commercial reality. There's no question in my mind that this format works, it's something that should be looked at in future."
Louis Vuitton Pacific Series