Swedes nail Alinghi

Finally a result goes against the form book in Act 12 of the America's Cup

Sunday June 25th 2006, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: none selected
Sweden's Victory Challenge was the story of the day in Valencia today when skipper Magnus Holmberg's team was able to beat the defender of the America's Cup in a hard fought match. It was a tremendous win for the Swedes who handed Alinghi just its fifth loss from 51 starts.

The unexpected win is almost like a bonus point for Victory Challenge while Alinghi's loss clears the top of the leaderboard for Emirates Team New Zealand, who are now the only team with a perfect record after four days of Louis Vuitton Act 12.

Conditions were excellent for racing on the waters off Valencia. A moderate to strong sea breeze developed, the 14 to 19 knot southeasterly whipping up choppy waves outside the Port America's Cup.

Victory Challenge enjoyed a hero's welcome on their return to the port, the large crowds lining the balconies on the Veles e Vents building cheering their momentous win over the Swiss defender of the America's Cup. With Monday a scheduled reserve day, the Swedes can enjoy their celebrations well into the Spanish night.

Flight seven

In the battle of the Holmbergs, Peter Holmberg at the helm of Alinghi nearly drove Magnus Holmberg and Victory Challenge over the start line. The Swedes just managed to squeak over the line as the gun fired and they accelerated up to level terms with the defender as they broke out to opposite sides of the course. While everyone expected Alinghi to put the hammer down and eke out a lead from Victory, it never happened as the Swedes revelled in the strongest breeze of the Louis Vuitton Acts this year.

Victory continued to lead down the run, although a fluffed spinnaker drop at the leeward gate nearly handed the lead back to Alinghi. Once again up the beat the Swedes seized control, until the very final stages when Alinghi climbed back into contention and launched into a luffing match. But Magnus Holmberg wriggled free and steered around the final mark in front. The Swedes were the faster boat downwind and sailed to an unexpected 21 second victory over the formidable Defenders.

“There are few moments as a sportsman when you experience that absolutely everything works, but when it happens it’s all the more wonderful,” said a jubilant Magnus Holmberg. “It was classic match racing. With the start and with the tacking duels where we managed to defend the more advantageous right side, situations at the roundings of the windward mark and leeward gate, our fake gybes on the run that they fell for. Everything worked perfectly.

“During the last few months we have made so many changes, with a new bow, modified mast, new sail, a weight-saving programme on the boat etc. Sometimes I’ve worried that we’ve been over-ambitious, that it would fail. Today we got proof that we’ve done the right thing and are moving in the right direction."

His opposition Peter Holmberg (no relation) gave his take on the match: “The right was a must have, the wind was supposed to go right but we didn’t know it was going to march that far right. So even though we had a little speed advantage, the right shift always kept him just ahead so it was a close fight. The first top mark he executed very well, small boat style and pulled it off. On the run, it was a good fight between the two teams. Both teams sailed well but he got in just ahead at the bottom. It was a good fight up the next beat, and this time at the top mark we were able to lee bow him, but it was a weak lee bow, he was pretty much bow forward and what we tried to do was luff him and stop him and then bear off and break overlap. But in the end he did a very nice job and we weren’t quite far enough forward to have the advantage there, so we rounded just behind him. Down the run, we kept it close just one or two gybes apart but again he did a nice job sailing his air behind us.

"If there’s an upside to this, it was a good fight for us, it was the first time we’ve sailed in strong breeze in a long time and hopefully this will condition us for some of the bigger matches ahead. So the upside is that we’ve had a good battle, our crew sailed really well and a good punch might be what we need to get ready for the next ones.”

When +39 Challenge stuck a penalty on BMW Oracle Racing in the pre-start, there seemed a good chance that a close match would ensue. However Chris Dickson showed the awesome pace of USA 87 to speed away up the track, to the point where he was far enough ahead to offload the penalty up the final beat, with a safe lead still intact. The Americans escaped embarrassment by the thrusting Italian team, as they sailed to an easy victory.

The match between Desafío Español 2007 and Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team was billed as the 'battle for fifth', but things went surprisingly easily for the Spanish whose new boat looked fast in the breeze. When the Italians trawled their spinnaker at the windward mark, the Spanish extended even further and won by half a kilometre.

The other matches were one-sided events, Luna Rossa beating Areva Challenge, Emirates Team New Zealand beating United Internet Team Germany, and Shosholoza overcoming an early lead by the China Team, who eventually pulled out with mainsail halyard problems.

“We had difficulty finding a good configuration today,” said Thierry Peponnet, skipper and helmsman of Areva Challenge later. “In the match against Luna Rossa.  We wanted the right side of the course and we obtained it, but we did not manage to take the advantage. There is a speed differential between their new boat and FRA 60.  However, we did manage to maintain the variation between the two boats, with a delta of 43 seconds at the finish, which we felt was good for our boat under the 13 to 15 knots of wind that we had.”
  Flight Seven  
1 Luna Rossa beat Areva Challenge DELTA 00.43
2 Emirates Team New Zealand beat United Internet Team Germany DELTA 01.59
3 Desafío Español 2007 beat Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team  DELTA 01.20
4 BMW ORACLE Racing beat +39 Challenge  DELTA 00.48
5 Victory Challenge beat Alinghi DELTA 00:21
6 Shosholoza won, China Team did not finish CHN DNF


Flight eight

Buoyed from that victory over Alinghi, Victory Challenge was pumped up for another win against Team Shosholoza. But the South Africans weren't going to give it to the Swedes on a plate and the two closely-matched teams engaged in a fierce tacking duel up the first beat. Shosholoza looked to have the upper hand until Victory turned the tables on their rivals just before the windward mark, rounding nine seconds ahead. Down the next run Shosholoza closed the gap and initiated an aggressive luffing match towards the leeward gate. However, they lost control of the spinnaker and rounded with the genoa sheet led inside the shroud, preventing them from sheeting in the jib properly. Victory seized the advantage and maintained a two or three boatlength lead until the dying stages of the final leg when spinnaker problems gave South African fans a glimmer of hope. But the Swedes held on for another win on an amazing day for the men in black.

Karol Jablonski very nearly cleaned Dean Barker out at the start of the Desafío Español match against Emirates Team New Zealand, but Barker just managed to start behind the line at the gun and it was an even split-tack start. The lead ebbed and flowed between the two teams as the wind shifted from one side to the other. Towards the top of the leg, the advantage appeared to be to the Spanish but Barker managed to climb on to their starboard hip near the windward mark. Desafío started a luffing duel to shut Emirates out, but having seemingly done enough, ESP 88 was very slow through the tack and Jablonski failed to cross a rapidly accelerating NZL 84. The Umpires pinned an immediate penalty on the Spanish, handing an immediate six-boatlength lead to the Kiwis which they would maintain to the finish.

The match between Areva Challenge and Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team was close in the early stages. But gradually the Italians found a small edge and stretched out to an unchallenged lead for a 1:03 win.

“In this match, we had the worst conditions for our boat, i.e. there was a large sea and less wind," said Areva skiper Thierry Peponnet. "Mascalzone Latino Capitalia Team has a narrower boat which passes through the water better when the sea comes up.  Then the width of our boat is a handicap. We were not powerful enough on the starting line to take complete control of them. By the first mark, they had a three boat-length advantage. We remained in contact most of the race, but the lead that they took after the first tack was decisive and did not leave us with many opportunities to pass.”

United Internet Team Germany made a good start of their fight with Luna Rossa, with Jesper Bank holding the power of the right. However, when he tacked too close to the Italians and was given a penalty, the Germans knew that was all but the end of the match. And it was, the Italians sailing off to a clear victory.

Alinghi led from start to finish against +39 Challenge, while equipment problems aboard China Team handed a walkover win to BMW Oracle Racing.

Dimitri Nicolopoulos, Coordinator of the Ariva Challeng eDesign Team, gave his views about Luna Rossa's new boat: “ITA 86 follows the tendency of other new boats that are racing in the competition: It is very effective on the upwind legs. But we remained in contact for most of the race. The final delta between the two boats was less than last year, which shows that we have made progress.  With regard to Mascalzone Latino Capitalia Team, they have made improvements to their boat this winter, and it appears to be much quicker on the downwind legs.  I think that it is nearly equivalent to FRA 60, but unfortunately we did not succeed in taking the lead on the first upwind leg.”

  Flight Eight  
1 Luna Rossa beat United Internet Team Germany  DELTA 02.00
2 Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team beat Areva Challenge DELTA 01.02
3 Emirates Team New Zealand beat Desafío Español 2007 DELTA 00.43
4 BMW ORACLE Racing won, China Team did not start CHN DNS
5 Alinghi beat +39 Challenge DELTA 02.03
6 Victory Challenge beat Shosholoza  DELTA 00.35


Tomorrow is a reserve day for the regatta, so there is no racing.  The team will have a maintenance day followed by a short sailing session.  The crew members will finish up early so they can rest for Tuesday’s races, when AREVA Challenge will face China Team and the Swedes of Victory Challenge.

Standings

Pos Team Matches sailed Won Points
1 Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL 84) 8 8 8
2 Alinghi (SUI 75) 8 7 7
2 BMW ORACLE Racing (USA 87) 8 7 7
2 Luna Rossa Challenge (ITA 86) 8 7 7
5 Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team (ITA 77) 8 5 5
6 Desafío Español 2007 (ESP 88) 8 4 4
6 Victory Challenge (SWE 63) 8 4 4
8 Shosholoza (RSA 83) 8 3 3
9 +39 Challenge (ITA 59) 8 2 2
10 Areva Challenge (FRA 60) 8 1 1
11 United Internet Team Germany (GER 72) 8 0 0
11 China Team (CHN 79) 8 0 0

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