Oracle win in light and shifty conditions

Coutts faces biggest losing margin since 1992

Thursday January 16th 2003, Author: Louis Vuitton Cup Media, Location: Australasia
The combination of Chris Dickson calling tactics, Peter Holmberg driving and a dash of luck gave Larry Ellison’s Oracle BMW Racing its first win of the Louis Vuitton Cup Final in a wacky day on the Hauraki Gulf.

Louis Vuitton Cup Finals
Alinghi Oracle BMW
Best of 9 3 1
Race 1 1.24
Race 2 0.40
Race 3 1.01
Race 4 2.13
Race 5
Race 6
Race 7
Race 8
Race 9
Editorial Note: UK viewers, British Eurosport at 22.15 for hour long race report, that reminds me I must open that UBS bank account today...

With the wind shifting through 60 degrees and puffs favouring one yacht over the other, Oracle BMW won by 2 minutes and 13 seconds and pulled to within 2 points, 3-1, of Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi Team.

The first team to five points advances to meet Team New Zealand in the 31st America’s Cup Match, beginning Feb. 15.

The winds were light, between 7 and 11 knots, and the seas flat, which seem to favour Ellison’s yacht from the Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco. But yesterday’s afterguard change has also helped the long, black America’s Cup Class sloop.

Dickson stepped off the helm to call tactics and the trim of the boat. Holmberg, who had helmed Oracle BMW’s USA-76 through most of the first two rounds and during most pre-starts, moved back behind the wheel full time, where his talents are best utilised.

The tandem nearly scored the team’s first victory yesterday, but two penalty turns allowed the Russell Coutts-skippered Alinghi Team to win its third straight race of the finals and seventh straight against Oracle BMW.

Today, Alinghi had trouble handling the shifty and streaky conditions on the second run. Alinghi led around the first windward mark and, with the wind heading SUI-64, it was nearly laying the leeward mark.

Oracle BMW, to leeward and behind, should have been disadvantaged in the shift. But Oracle BMW rode a big puff of wind down the port layline to the leeward mark and into the lead. From there, Oracle BMW sailed a decisive race for an important victory.

The loss was Alinghi’s fourth of Louis Vuitton Cup 2003 against 24 victories. Not only was it Alinghi’s most lopsided loss of the challengers’ series, it was also Coutts’ biggest losing margin in 40 Louis Vuitton Cup races dating to 1992 in San Diego, Calif.

CREW LIST Oracle (USA-76) Alingi (SUI-64)
Bow Geordie Shaver Dean Phipps
Mid Bow Grind Bill Bates Curtis Blewett
Mast/Grind David Brooke Francesco Rapetti
Pit Matt Smith Josh Belsky
Starboard Grinder Mark McTeigue Kai Bjorn
Port Grinder Matt Welling Will McCarthy
Mid Grinder Brian McInnes Simon Daubney
Spinnaker Trim/Grind Robbie Naismith Richard Bouzaid
Genoa Trim Bob Wylie Christian Karcher
Traveller Tactics Cameron Dunn Murray Jones
MainTrim Mike Sanderson Warwick Fleury
Aft Grind Eric Doyle Pieter Van Nieuwenhuyzen
Afterguard Tommaso Chieffi Jochen Schuemann
Afterguard Ian Burns Ernesto Bertarelli
Afterguard Peter Holmberg Brad Butterworth
Skipper Chris Dickson Russell Coutts
17th Man K. H. Kalbfell - BMW Sponsor

Official Race Report

Alinghi leads best-of-nine finals over Oracle BMW Racing by 3-1

Once again a lack of breeze meant a postponement as the race committee waited for the breeze to fill. But when the wind finally did come in, it was shifty making life very tricky for both teams.

The start was a quiet affair. Alinghi entered from the right and Oracle BMW on the left and a conventional dial-up between the two boats followed. As both boats held their position head-to-wind, both crews saw the left-hand side of the course as being the favoured side.

As the dial-up broke down, Oracle BMW, helmed by Peter Holmberg, fell away onto port while Alinghi, helmed by Russell Coutts, bore away onto starboard. For a few precious moments, Holmberg looked to be in a precarious position. Seconds later Alinghi protested Oracle BMW, but the umpire flew a green flag in response as the port-tack San Francisco boat managed to sneak across the bow of the Swiss boat.

On the lead back into the start the boats were well separated, Oracle BMW up to weather and looking early, Alinghi further to leeward. But as the starting gun fired, both boats were perfect on the line and at the pin end.

As Oracle BMW headed out towards the ‘favoured’ side of the course Alinghi had to tack away onto port and head out towards the right-hand side. Once Alinghi had tacked back onto starboard, the breeze swung slightly to the right and sent the Swiss team into the lead.

Alinghi rounded the windward mark and was almost laying the leeward mark on port jibe. Oracle BMW, 38 seconds behind, saw more wind closer to the shore, jibed away to a difficult position and found the pressure to sail through to the lead, rounding the leeward mark 56 seconds ahead.

By the second windward mark Oracle BMW had maintained their lead but they took their biggest leap ahead on the second downwind leg, where they stretched the delta to 2:34, a margin that proved too difficult for Alinghi to challenge.


After the race Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth and Oracle BMW Racing's Ian Burns gather their views on what happened.

Q – Ian, this win must bring some joy within your team after yesterday’s deception?

Ian – Yes, we were glad to get the point, it was very fluky conditions so I don’t know if we completely earned it but it’s like we got a bit of monkey off our back today. We were able to score a point against Alinghi which has been a bit of a problem for us in the last six, seven or eight races, so it was great to get that point and we are very happy with it.

Q – Ian, after a good start you were trailing by 38 seconds at the first mark, were you scared or still confident?

Ian – It was obviously a very fluky day, on the first beat we saw wind shifts of about 30 degrees at some stages and so we figured there would be opportunities further down the course and still plenty of race left in it so we weren’t overly anxious at that stage. Of course we were a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get the exact start that we had planned, we got the left-hand side and it turned bad on us almost immediately which was disappointing, but I guess it all traded off in the end.

Q – Ian, you broke your gennaker sheet on the first run, did that help you taking the lead?

Ian – I don’t know if it helped us. We lost the clip off the clew of the gennaker and we tried to gybe back onto port and had to go back onto starboard for a bit longer. We were actually up past the layline by the time we got it reconnected. Our bowman, Geordie Shaver, claimed that he fired it off deliberately, that he knew which way to go and he called it the whole time. So we can thank Geordie for that one.

Q – Brad, you lost 1 minute and 34 seconds on one leg was that possible to avoid?

Brad – Probably. It was very shifty out there today, very difficult to read. We wanted the left at the start and thanks to Geordie Shaver we got a good start, he pushed us right and we got a nice shift and we led at the top mark. When we came around the top mark we were aiming for the bottom mark so we were feeling pretty confident about carrying on. Then Oracle got a nice puff from behind and gybed and kept on going. I think probably we should have gybed, but we didn’t because we thought we could roll them down there but we just stayed there. We were in quite light air on the way down and they came in reaching. But really the damage was done on the next beat where we failed to take a couple of little opportunities before we got out to the starboard layline and that sort of ended the race for us. But it was a tough day, there was probably enough wind, but it was very shifty and hard to read… My congratulations to the guys on Oracle they did a good job.

Q – Brad, do you think the race committee could’ve waited a little bit longer before starting the race?

Brad – They call it the way they see it, but it would be nice to push up a little bit closer in where the breeze is a little bit more solid. In those conditions you can get in a bit closer to the East Coast Bays. And having it a little bit more steady would have helped both teams.

Q – Ian, if you are putting it down largely to benefiting from the lottery in the conditions, what are the positives that you take out of today that will be useful to apply on another day?

Ian – We take a point out of it which is good to have. I thought the boat was going pretty nicely today. We’ve worked pretty hard on sailing it a little bit differently, actually getting the boat set up for the races and selecting the sails that we’ve selected for different legs and I think that seems to be working in the light air especially. I think we were tacking fairly well so that is good thing, we weren’t losing anything, probably gaining a little bit when we were tacking so we’re happy with that. If anything it was a bit of a lottery, we got a big shift at the right time and made some advantage from it so it worked out OK. But there wasn’t too much to take away from it really.

Q – Ian, over the last two days Peter has been steering most of the day and Chris has concentrating more on running around. You seem to have been a lot more competitive in the last two days. Would you put this afterguard structure change down to the change in fortune for Oracle?

Ian – A little bit, we’ve also had different weather which I think is contributing largely to it. It’s been lighter and flatter and I think that’s been to our advantage. Certainly with Chris in the back of the boat there is a lot better decision-making process, I believe. Chris makes some very good decisions in the tight spots and uses fantastic judgement for a lot of wind shifts and tight situations. Peter handles the boat beautifully as well in those same situations, so it’s a pretty good combination. At other times when it is more difficult sailing conditions perhaps, Chris likes to take the helm.

Q – Brad, the Blackheart people announced yesterday that they are getting out of the business, how does that affect you and Russell?

Brad – We have put a lot of effort into sailing the boat and trying to win the races. My personal feeling is that it would be a lot better for the businessmen if Blackheart were to give their money to Team New Zealand than to use it to intimidate families. That it seems quite sick and pathetic, the way they have carried on.

Q – Brad, you look back today and see what you could have done differently, but looking forward, if you go out tomorrow in the same conditions, can you have any real confidence that things would work your way more than they did today?

Brad – Well you always have confidence that you are going to sail well, and those sort of days … well there’s more of them coming up and so it can go one way or another. Usually in that wind strength and those sort of shifty conditions the races aren’t very close, they are usually won with one boat getting more pressure than the other or no shift happening, so I could see fortunes coming and going and I think the boats are going much the same in those kind of conditions so its going to be who gets that break and can consolidate when the breeze does settle in. So I can see more of the same, quite tight racing in the beginning and one boat getting a break and getting away.

Q – Ian, it seemed like you got real lucky out there today, I think it was the second leg, downwind run, you were on the right side of the course you had trouble with a gybe to get back to the centre of the course that made it very fortuitous. A minute or two later you picked up a strong puff and that made al the difference in the race. How do you see it?

Ian – Yes, I don’t think that gybing back really made that bigger difference when we lost that sheet. I think if we had gybed at that same position … as it turned out we came in pretty hot to the mark and we would have been just as happy if we had gybed the first time and kept going. I think perhaps we would have got a bit better pressure but we certainly lost a fair bit of ground with those extra couple of gybes in quick succession, so I don’t know if that was really the clincher for the whole thing. We had Cameron Dunn up the mast and he was calling for us to go left (looking upwind), gybe at the mark and go in that direction from before we got to the mark. We rounded in the header that Alinghi rounded in as well, so we went for a port pole, but at that moment the breeze squared up and we were keen to get on the other gybe. I think that was more the significant part of it rather than just a bit of a break. At that time Alinghi, I think, gybed back because they were still in the header breeze, they only went for a minute on the other gybe, so they were virtually pointing at the mark the whole way down that run. It’s pretty hard to gybe off that.

Q – Ian, did you have to gybe then 90 degrees off the mark then when you gybed, or had the wind come around already by the time you got there?

Ian – No, we had a pretty good shift at that time. The breeze had swung left where we were at that time and we were able to carry quite a nice shift out in that direction and it was behind Brad and the guys and in front of us, so they never had the opportunity to take advantage of it. Perhaps in hindsight they might have, but when you’re aiming at the mark it’s pretty hard to gybe away from that.

Q – Brad, at the end of the dial-up, Oracle sheeted-on on port and managed to slip across your bow. Were you surprised by that move? From looking on the screen it looked like a pretty high risk move?

Brad – Yes, but when I looked at the video I didn’t see a problem with it. On the boat it probably looked a little bit closer for us than it was and we probably made a little error not getting right down on starboard tack about 30-35 seconds earlier because we were in a very nice position at that stage. But if that was the case we would have got the left and it would have turned bad so we were happy with the way it worked out.

Q – Brad, although a win is a win, yesterday’s race was only one second if you ignore the penalty. If they had won that would have put you 2-2. It’s a lot closer than we saw last time you guys got together. How much more pressure does that put you under now?

Brad – I think you are seeing the final of the Louis Vuitton Cup and these two teams have come the whole way through the championship and both have been improving and Oracle has always had a lot of potential and we have always viewed them as a very good team, tough to beat. I think you are seeing that the standard is quite high and it gets to this stage and it is a good thing, I relish it, if you rolled on through this regatta without having anybody pushing you, you haven’t got much of chance by the time you get to the America’s Cup.

Q – Ian, several times you have told us you have changed the way you are sailing boat without explaining what those changes are. Earlier in the trials Oracle had a very distinctive setup with the sail trim and shapes, have you move more closely towards where the other Challengers have been?

Ian – Yes, we certainly have, and it’s a combination of realising where the opposition are and the changing weather conditions as the year continues on. We expect to get lighter winds a lot more days like today and we have migrated to cover that area. With the setup of the boat we are really learning how to sail the boat, how to set it up, it’s not an easy boat to sail. The Oracle boats are not the simplest boats to sail on and the more we sail them and develop our techniques to keep them tracking along and keep them at the right speed, it seems to be getting better and better certainly in the difficult conditions.

Q – Ian, you have mentioned that you have changed a significant amount of things on the boat. Is it a significantly different boat to what you were sailing earlier in the round? How much of a difference has that made to people like Peter and Chris driving the boat?

Ian – Well we’ve changed from the first round robins, we’ve changed the boat a lot and in a number of different ways both under the water and above the water. In this round you aren’t allowed to change the actual boat, but certainly the way we set it up for racing and the way we trim the sails and speeds we’re trying to sail have changed and we are continually refining that and learning things all the time. So we are pretty happy with what we have been doing, you learn every day when you go out there, every day against a new boat you find something to try again the next day.

Q – Brad, how do you size up the performance of other boats in the light-air conditions? It seems that the Oracle boat has a slight edge going downwind, do you think this is true?

Brad – Yes, I think it might be. It is tough in light air to gage the puffs, they are difficult to read and that would be my feeling as well.

Q – Sick and pathetic, so is that it dead for you Brad or would or expect a residual hangover that won’t go away?

Brad – I think sick and pathetic is probably it, but there has been a lot of lies told towards Russell and I in the last couple of years and sooner or later the truth will come out, I guess, and life goes on. But it’s good to see the backs of those guys.

Thank you.

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