Cup round up

How teamsin the 2006 America's Cup season

Tuesday July 4th 2006, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: none selected
Emirates Team New Zealand heads in to the 'off season' leading on all counts at the 32nd America's Cup. The Kiwis won a 'winner take all' race over Alinghi on Sunday to claim Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 12, which in turn put the team on top of the 2006 Louis Vuitton ACC Championship. Also, the ranking points the team earned in Act 12 allowed it to stretch out a lead over BMW Oracle Racing on the challengers-only Louis Vuitton Ranking.

So it's been a good season for the Kiwis. They were the first of the big teams to launch a new boat, NZL 84, just before Christmas. The team worked the boat up in Auckland and arrived in Valencia full of promise. But the May Louis Vuitton Acts were a disappointment, the team earning third place finishes in both match and fleet racing events.

But Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 12 was a different matter. The match racing format of the regatta, like a 'mini Louis Vuitton Cup', seemed to suit the team better and skipper Dean Barker and his men sailed with confidence, aggression and skill. In 17 matches, the team was beaten just twice and won in both instances when it was pushed to a final match.

Among the big themes of the 2006 season is that of renewal; A new Port America's Cup, new boats for many of the teams and new challenges for nearly all of them.

The revitalised Port America's Cup is one of the success stories of the season. With a new marina, a successful public America's Cup Park, anchored by the Veles e Vents building, the Port was an enormous success. Nearly 500 000 people passed through the entrances this year, bringing the total of on-site visitors to the Louis Vuitton Acts up to over 1.5 million from 2004 to 2006.

Emirates Team New Zealand

With a new boat and renewed confidence, the Kiwis were a powerful force in 2006 and especially in Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 12. Barker and his team were aggressive in the pre-starts, confident in their speed, and powerful in their tactics. The highlight match was a win over BMW Oracle Racing in the semi-final in a match that many are calling an America's Cup classic. The team went on to beat the Cup defender, Alinghi, 2-1 in the final.

"We felt like somebody had put a flame thrower on us but the team didn't crack. You have to feel happy with that," said tactician Terry Hutchinson, describing the pressure his team had faced over the 10-day regatta.

But he cautioned, "We're very mindful of the fact that Alinghi were sailing a three year old boat. We have used a boat (one of two new boats they're allowed to build) just to catch up with Alinghi and they still have a brand new one in the shed. It would be a huge mistake to look much beyond the fact that we beat a guy in a three year old boat.barely."

The Kiwis will take that humble attitude with them into the off-season. The team has more training planned over the rest of the summer, before returning to Auckland in the autumn to begin testing and training over the winter months at home. Emirates Team New Zealand will take delivery of its new boat by the end of the year.

Alinghi

It's doubtful that the Swiss defender is too worried by its loss to Emirates Team New Zealand in the Act 12 final. The team pushed the Kiwis hard and very nearly won, despite having a four-year old boat. It has used SUI 75 to beat each of the top challengers in their new boats at some point over the season, including a 2-0 record over USA 87, a 2-2 record against Luna Rossa and 1-4 record against Emirates Team New Zealand. That means the Swiss have had the opportunity to see the new ideas of all the top teams, without revealing too many of their own. In fact, the team feels SUI 75 is nearly competitive enough to still do the job.

"We didn't have the firepower to beat Team New Zealand in the end, but boy it was close," skipper Brad Butterworth said. "We sailed SUI-75 but I don't see that as any excuse that we didn't win, that would be a soft excuse. We've got a lot of development that's going on and that's been our focus."

BMW Oracle Racing

The American challenger finished the 2006 season with a bang - the team collided with Luna Rossa in the first race of the petit final and with both boats too damaged to continue the series, BMW Oracle Racing was awarded the point it needed to claim third place in Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 12 by the Jury.

"Nobody likes to see collisions on the race track and this is definitely not the way we would have chosen to win the petite final of Act 12, but we believe the Jury reached the only reasonable conclusion," said skipper Chris Dickson after the incident.

Before that, the team had sailed well, losing an incredible semi-final match up against Emirates Team New Zealand. All three matches were good, but one was a classic, with every match racing tactic in the book employed by both teams in an effort to get a lead. The Kiwis eventually won, but more importantly, it was the type of 'battle-hardening' race the challengers will be hoping to replicate in the Louis Vuitton Cup next year in an effort to create a challenger capable of beating Alinghi.

To that end, the American team is now talking about spending a few months over the winter in Auckland, where they can take advantage of the southern hemisphere summer and the proximity of the rival Kiwi team to further develop their programme.

Luna Rossa Challenge

The Italians came into Louis Vuitton Act 12 leading the season championship table for the first time in the 32nd America's Cup. They ended the Act on a disappointing note, fourth on the table and disqualified by the Jury for a collision with BMW Oracle. More importantly, their new boat, ITA 86, suffered what the team called 'structural damage' in the collision. It is expected to take at least a week to repair.

"I am not going to allow one episode to change what we are doing and what we will do in the future," said a disappointed Francesco de Angelis, skipper of the team. "In the Round Robin we finished second and the race against Alinghi was very valuable. It's a shame we couldn't conclude the race with BMW Oracle because I was happy about the way things were going."

"This has been a very important period for us. We learned a lot of things about ourselves, the boat, the team and our opponents. We have our programme and we are moving ahead."

Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team

2006 has been a breakout season of sorts for the 'Latin Rascals'. The team finished the season in fifth place, its highest ranking position to date, and did so sailing its old boat. It's a good time for this Italian team.

"We have a huge list of things we know we have to work on and get better at, but we've learned a lot in this Act and we've managed to put ourselves in situations that have allowed us to learn more about our personnel and about our skills and where we need to move on," said Cameron Dunn, one of the helmsman and coaches for the team. "That's the key. We've got 7 or 8 months now to increase our skills in the areas that we need to so that we can be competitive when we go racing against the likes of Team New Zealand who are going to be the top challenger from this Act. But we need to be able to match them boat for boat all the way around the course."

The plan now is to work up the boat, ITA 90, against the one the team sailed in Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 12, ITA 77. The new boat has been going through some 'teething' problems, but Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team says the boat will be fine and will be sailing soon.

Desafío Español 2007

The home team had a good, if unspectacular, season. The Spanish see themselves as among the top four challengers, but finished the season as the fifth challenger behind Mascalzone. On the positive side of the ledger, the team sailed its new boat ESP 88 in Louis Vuitton Act 12 and appeared to be getting more from it with each day of racing.

"The result of the season is great for our team," helmsman Karol Jablonski said after wrapping up fifth place in Act 12. "It's been a good year for us. We only had two weeks to get ESP 88 in the water and get it ready to race. It was a tough decision to make but we're really happy with the performance of the boat. It's going better every day and we feel like we're on the right track."

Desafío Español beat one of the big four for the first time this year, but must stop losing the occasional race to the smaller teams if it hopes to become a top challenger.

Team Shosholoza

The South Africans have literally vaulted up the standings in the past 12 months; a meteoric rise highlighted by the team finishing sixth in Louis Vuitton Act 11. The team is seventh on the season table, a spectacular result for a squad that didn't win a race one year ago in Valencia. Shosholoza now expects to beat teams, and is able to hold close to the top crews when they race.

"We can be pretty proud of our little step up," agreed skipper Mark Sadler. "Now we have to take the next step. Especially as these other guys are developing quickly and getting new boats, we have to take a step just to match that."

Victory Challenge

With a new sponsor on board, things are looking positive for Sweden's Victory Challenge who had a solid, if unremarkable season. The Swedes finish the season in eighth place and have slipped behind Shosholoza and Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team compared to last season.

But in other ways, the team has moved forward. Apart from the new sponsor, the team is looking forward to its new boat, currently under construction in Gothenberg, and will resume an ambitious testing programme in Valencia later this summer.

"We have two new masts coming in a couple of weeks and we've recruited a lot of sailors from the Volvo Ocean Race so we'll have two full sailing teams and sail the two boats to crank up our sail development programme. We're going to be busy. We decided not to begin building until quite late, but we'll have our new boat before the end of the year, so we have plenty happening now."

Areva Challenge

The French challenger, having found its new sponsor in Areva earlier this spring is now focusing on its new boat, due to arrive in Valencia by the end of the year. The French team hit a high note in Trapani last year, but has since bumped up against the limit of what it can do in its 2000-generation boat.

"We knew that it would be harder for us this year because of the arrival of several new boats, but also because of the training the other teams have done over the winter," said team CEO Stephane Kandler. "Our objective was to preserve seventh place in the Louis Vuitton Ranking, which we had reached at the end of the 2005 season. We achieved this goal, and look forward to continuing our hard work this autumn when our new boat arrives. However, we remain realistic on our skill level, which sometimes appeared to lack some aggressiveness. We will work on improving our skills over the next year to come."

The team finished in ninth place in Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 12, but shares seventh place on the important Louis Vuitton Ranking for challengers with +39.

+39 Challenge

The third Italian challenger also bumped up against the limits of what can be achieved with the oldest boat in the fleet. Iain Percy and his men fought hard during the 2006 season, but were consistently outgunned.

"I can think of many races we could have won if had equal speed boat.far, far more than we lost," Percy said after falling to Areva Challenge in the battle for ninth place in Act 12.

Regardless, the team has come a long way from Louis Vuitton Act 1 in Marseille, when every pre-start seemed to be an adventure for the team. The sailing squad is talented, loaded with Olympic medals, and with the new ITA 85 freshly delivered to the base in Valencia, there is every hope that team could push up the challenger ladder in 2007.

United Internet Team Germany

2006 was a frustrating year for skipper Jesper Bank who couldn't compete as much as he would have liked with the middle group of challengers. After a strong opening regatta in Valencia last season, the Germans have beaten only China Team and Shosholoza in 2006, and seemed overmatched in many races this year. Like the other bottom dwellers on the ranking table, UITG is restricted by its boatspeed and needs to be perfect around the course to hold close to the other teams.

"I hate to lose," said skipper Jesper Bank after falling in his division semi-final to +39 Challenge. "I could see in the first race that we got everything we wanted. If we get all the shifts right we might stay in touch, but as soon as we get one slightly wrong we can't hold on to them. It's highly, highly frustrating to sail the boat that way. There is no more match racing after early on in the race."

The Germans have a new boat, GER 89, waiting to be worked up and the team announced this month that it will not build a second new boat, instead putting all of its time, attention and resources into 89.a smart move for a first time challenger.

China Team

The Chinese failed to win a race in 2006, but that hasn't got the team down, this is a squad with a long term view of the Cup, which is realistic about its chances. The team is integrating more and more Chinese sailors into the sailing squad with each Louis Vuitton Act and has sailed with as many as eight during Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 12. This is an enormous achievement considering the cultural and language barriers the team faces.

Ming Feng, one of the Chinese sailors, describes some of the obstacles he faces: "What struck me first of all was the rhythm of work and the amount of effort the team put in every day. In China we usually finish a day of training around 17h or 18h. Here if we can finish up at 20h30 we consider it to be a good day. The people who work for the America's Cup are all professionals. It is the biggest difference we have found compared with Chinese sailing. That's why the China Team project is so interesting. It is a way of thinking and reacting, and we must acquire it if we want to progress."

The team is building its new boat in China now, and expects it to arrive in Valencia before Christmas for sailing in January.

2006 Louis Vuitton ACC Championship

1.Emirates Team New Zealand
2. Alinghi
3. BMW ORACLE Racing
4. Luna Rossa Challenge
5. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team
6. Desafío Español 2007
7. Team Shosholoza
8. Victory Challenge
9. Areva Challenge
10. +39 Challenge
11. United Internet Team Germany
12.China Team

Louis Vuitton Ranking (challengers only)

1. Emirates Team New Zealand 125 points
2. BMW ORACLE Racing 123 points
3. Luna Rossa Challenge 118 points
4. Desafío Español 2007 85 points
5. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team 73 points
6. Victory Challenge 68 points
7. +39 Challenge 60 points
7. Areva Challenge 60 points
9. Shosholoza 55 points
10. United Internet Team Germany 33 points
11. China Team 15 points

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