Torrential rain in Naples
Weather more reminiscent of the Solent on an off day descended on Naples for the third day of racing at the America's Cup World Series. The torrential rain created a wind that was lighter than yesterday so often the AC45 catamarans weren't flying their weather hulls. But it was the holes and large shifts in the breeze, combined with an on-shore swell that favoured boats on starboard going up the beats, made for significant snakes and ladders on the race course and mixed fortunes in the overall results. Perhaps for the first time in the ACWS, today was one where the tacticians very much earned their keep.
As Chris Draper, helmsman on Luna Rossa Piranha observed: “It was really hard. The swell made it hard, surfing upwind and then straight into the waves downwind… So to get the results we did, I'm really pleased with our guys, they did a great job.”
Even in the light conditions the stand-out teams are the ones who make the least mistakes around the race track and in the opening race today it was the Fred le Peutrec-steered China Team that led around the first corner, only then to fall back to last. "Good starts, yes, but not good races,” he said after racing. “We are a bit frustrated by the wind shifts, but anyway, two good starts… Unlucky with the wind, but that's the game."
It was fellow former French Tornado ace Yann Guichard who gybed first after the first corner and had eased Energy Team into the lead at the first leeward gate rounding. From there the French crew were never really threatened.
After his dismal day yesterday, James Spithill was in fighting mood and held third until the second beat when he match raced the Nathan Outteridge-steered Team Korea out of his way. From 40 seconds behind, Spithill then proceeded to claw back seconds on Energy Team, but particularly on the final run, crossing the finish line just 10 seconds adrift of the French.
Conversely after their double win yesterday, Emirates Team New Zealand seemed to be have picked up Spithill's bad fortune from yesterday and ended up being penalised twice, being over early at the start and then picking up a second penalty during a mark rounding when the wind died and the fleet bunched, almost stopped and lost steerage. This was not helped by getting on the wrong side of some shifts. Trailing the fleet for most of the race Dean Barker's team didn't manage to pick off China Team until the last weather mark rounding and then overhauled Luna Rossa Swordfish to pull back to seventh.
Victorious skipper Yann Guichard commented: "We got off to a good start today in the first race and were able to lead the fleet from start to finish. It was a long race with a lot of excitement and it’s great for the team to win this race. It was not that easy with the wind changing all the time in strength and direction. There was quite a lot of stress and things were very tense on board, but we really enjoyed keeping James Spithill in check right up to the finish, as he just about got back up with us."
Race one deltas:
1 Energy Team
2 Oracle Racing Spithill +0.10
3 Luna Rossa Piranha +0.50
4 Oracle Racing Bundock +1.05
5 Team Korea 1.30
6 Artemis Racing +2.08
7 ETNZ 2.51
8 Luna Rossa Swordfish +3.46
9 China Team +3.54
In race two there were four boats over early, including Energy Team. Team Korea got away well as they had in the first race, to lead at the first corner just ahead of Spithill, who then powered through on the run to round the bottom gate 12 and 16 seconds ahead of Team Korea and China Team. At this point Energy Team, winner of the previous race, was bringing up the rear.
Fourth at the bottom mark, Emirates Team New Zealand was on a charge and while the Koreans managed to stay ahead at the top mark rounding, Dean Barker had managed to dispatch them by the time the AC45s reached the bottom gate for the second time. 28 seconds behind at the gate, the Kiwis had whittled Spithill's lead down to 14 seconds by the next top mark rounding. Despite a challenge by Luna Rossa Swordfish on the third run, the Kiwis did well to pick the left side of the next beat as Spithill picked the right. This put them into the lead in terms of distance to the mark. In a scenario reminiscent of the old Version 5 boat battles, as the two boats tacked back into the middle of the course Barker had to duck Spithill as he came in from the right with rights, but the Kiwis were ahead by the next cross and from there never looked back.
Conditions were particularly difficult on the course, the wind shifting at time by 10-15° in the space of 30 or 40m. Then they closed down causing the mid and back of the fleet to raft up. A result at the finish there ended up being a gap of almost four minutes between third placed Luna Rossa Swordfish and their team mates on Piranha, with the Koreans taking fifth a further minute and a half behind with the remain four boats arriving in swift succession.
At the end of the day Oracle Racing Spithill had made the best of the conditions posting two second-place finishes, gained them four points on leaders Emirates Team New Zealand, nearly cutting their lead in half over the course of the day. While in contrast, each race winner also carried a seventh place score on the day.
“It was a very, very difficult day, but the biggest thing is to remain calm in those situations,” said Spithill. “It’s easy to get frustrated; you just have to chip away. Like yesterday, nothing we seemed to do was right, but then we turned it around today and I’m happy with the guys that they bounced back.”
Following the two fleet races, the remaining two Match Racing Quarterfinals were completed. Emirates Team New Zealand found itself pushed deep into the standings by Artemis Racing, which found the right shifts in the tricky conditions to earn a lopsided victory. While Artemis advances to the Semi Finals, the Kiwis are forced to settle for a disappointing eighth place.
“It is nice to be able to gain some points on them for the overall World Series,” Hutchinson said. “But looking at the big picture, we still have a lot of work to do.”
In the other Quarter Final, Luna Rossa Swordfish won a close match over Energy Team, becoming the second Italian crew to qualify for the Semi Finals.
“For the team, it’s a great result for both boats to be in the top four,” said Manuel Modena, the trimmer on Luna Rossa Swordfish. “I hope we can both make it to the Final. Both our crews have the ability, but I would like to win if we both make it.”
The program for Saturday starts with the Match Racing Semi Finals and Final followed by two Fleet Races. The start of the first match is scheduled for 1330 CEST.
Fleet Racing Championship - Provisional Standings Day Three (after six races):
1. Emirates Team New Zealand (Skipper: Dean Barker); 52 points
2. ORACLE Racing - Spithill (Skipper: James Spithill); 47 points
3. Luna Rossa - Piranha (Helmsman: Chris Draper); 42 points
4. Team Korea (Skipper: Nathan Outteridge); 39 points
5. Energy Team (Skipper: Yann Guichard); 39 points
6. Luna Rossa - Swordfish (Helmsman: Paul Campbell-James); 35 points
7. ORACLE Racing - Bundock (Skipper: Darren Bundock); 28 points
8. Artemis Racing (Skipper: Terry Hutchinson); 20 points
9. China Team (Skipper: Fred Le Peutrec); 8 points
Match Racing Championship – Provisional Results:
QF3 - Artemis Racing beat Emirates Team New Zealand
QF4 - Luna Rossa Swordfish beat Energy Team
Emirates Team New Zealand finishes eighth in the Match Racing Championship; Artemis Racing advances to SF1.
From Chris Cameron/Emirates Team NZ:
From Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing