Slingsby finds his form
Strong performances by Oracle Team USA Slingsby and Energy Team along with a jarring collision between Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa were features of the second day of racing held in 10 knots at the America’s Cup World Series Naples. After a strong opening yesterday, it was however unsatisfactory for Ben Ainslie’s J.P.Morgan BAR.
Two bad starts forced the British team to play catch up, but good crew work, boat handling and tactical calls kept them in contention on the leaderboard.
The first start saw J.P.Morgan BAR late for the line. After racing Ainslie explained the issue they'd had: “We had a problem with the wing sheet where it got wrapped around the winch handle and then we weren’t able to trim it on. It’s a bit like driving a car out of gear, pressing the accelerator when you’re not in gear and nothing happens, so obviously we couldn’t accelerate and we were last off the line.”
The crew battled through the nine-strong fleet to finish sixth in the first race. In race two J.P.Morgan BAR was one of four teams that was OCS, but again strong crew work saw the team pull back to fourth at the finish, just behind Emirates Team New Zealand.
“It was a tough day at the office,” was crewman Matt Mitchell’s synopsis of the day. “We were back in the ruck today and it was pretty scrappy on the race course. In that situation you don’t get to choose where you want to go, so it was a totally different world from yesterday. As a result it was a day of pain for the boys on the boat, but we battled back nicely in both races. We rolled our sleeves up and got back up to mid-fleet and managed to salvage a few points. It’s still super close for the top five places so we will come back tomorrow and work hard for some more consistent results.”
Tom Slingsby steered Oracle Team USA into the top spot in the standings with 1-2 finishes in today’s two fleet races. In the first the US team rounded the first four gates in second but gradually gained ground to move into the lead down the fifth leg. After rounding Gate 5 in first, Oracle team USA held consistent to win the third fleet race of the regatta coming home 19 seconds ahead of Energy Team.
In the second fleet race of the day, Slingsby andhis crew crucially started clean after nearly half was penalized for being OCS. Energy Team rounded Gate 1 first followed by Oracle Team USA , and the two positions remained the same to the finish, Slingsby finishing 27 seconds behind the French crew.
Filling in for Jimmy Spithill, the Australian Laser Olympic gold medallist also won his first competitive match race, with a 34-second victory over HS Racing after the double Tornado Olympic gold medallist Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher were penalised in the pre-start.
“It was an ideal day for us, we’re really happy,” said Slingsby. “The wind was a bit steadier today so you just had to worry about getting a good start, boathandling and positioning. You didn’t have to read into watching the wind and everything it did. It was a beautiful seabreeze with small shifts and made things a bit easier.”
Trimmer Kinley Fowler added: “The team is starting to tie together really well. We had a few communication issues on the first day and that’s all getting ironed out. I think we’re going to keep improving as well. We’ve got a pretty tough match race against BAR, which will be good. We’ve done a fair bit of match race training with them recently.”
Slingsby’s performance impressed even the US Ambassador to Italy, David Thorne, who was guest racer aboard Oracle Team USA. “Looking at the racing, it’s really spectacular,” said Thorne. “Being in it, doing it, it's so much fun to get engaged in something like this. These are not really sailboats, they're airplanes. It's a spectacular feeling of speed and movement. It's completely thrilling.”
The French crew on Energy Team with Yann Guichard on the helm found their form today, posting a 2-1. They were overtaken by Slingsby on the second upwind leg in the first fleet race, but rebounded for a 26-second win in the second race.
"We got off to two great starts and then sailed well," said Guichard, who steered Energy Team to 4th place when the America's Cup World Series was in Naples last year. "This was a magnificent day for Energy Team! On these boats, you are always close to the edge, particularly in the start phase. We clearly saw that today in the second race, when four boats got penalized at the start. We’re really pleased, as rather frustrated with the match racing result yesterday against Ben Ainslie, when we lost out after getting off to a fantastic start. Today, after a long debriefing and some adjustments to the boat, we overcame that and everything went smoothly. I’m really pleased with the team… I hope that everyone and the French in particular enjoyed watching us sail like that today.
“Yesterday was difficult to understand the race course, it was very shifty. Today the wind was very steady so I could really focus on the speed of the boat, especially on the start. It will all come down to Sunday, but it's really important to do well day after day so we can be confident going into the last day."
While the fleet races were relatively tame in terms of 'incidents', the same could not be said of the day’s first match race between Luna Rossa Swordfish and Emirates Team New Zealand, the two crews having spent the winter training on AC72s in New Zealand.
Kiwi skipper Dean Barker got Emirates Team New Zealand off to a good start when he forced Francesco Bruni and Luna Rossa Swordfish over the start line early. Barker led by five seconds around the leeward mark, but Bruni steadily chipped away at that lead upwind.
As the two crews aimed to round the port weather mark, Barker approached on starboard with Bruni on port. Video replays show that Bruni got to the three-boatlength circle a split second before Barker, which gave Bruni rights to round the mark free of interference from Barker.
Barker, however, continued sailing straight to the mark and Bruni crashed into him as he started to tack towards the mark. Barker was penalised on the ensuing run and Bruni won the match. The collision flattened the starboard bow of Luna Rossa Swordfish and damaged the port stern scoop of Emirates Team New Zealand. Luna Rossa Swordfish retired from the second fleet race due to the damage to her bowsprit (and concerns over keeping her wing aloft) despite finishing third in the first fleet race.
“We are happy with our win over Team New Zealand, because they are one of the best teams on the water so to beat them is a nice thing to do,” said Luna Rossa Challenge skipper Max Sirena, who trims aboard Swordfish. “In the second race we broke the headstay bracket on the bowsprit, which dragged back by 10cm. We think it’s because of the damage in the collision"
Barker was upset that Luna Rossa Swordfish didn’t do more to avoid the collision. “Normally, even if you're in the right you avoid collisions resulting in serious damage and it doesn't seem like they did a lot. I think it's pretty poor to be honest. But the umpires see it the way they see it and our guys have a long night to fix the boat.”
Both boats were hauled in order for their shore teams to effect repairs.
For Artemis Racing, their young Swedish helmsman, Charlie Ekberg, had a tough time getting to the starting line on time in race one and was one of four teams OCS in race two. After the starts it was all about making up lost ground. The team managed to finish post a 6-7 today. The Artemis Racing shore team will have a longer night than usual today with a near capsize in race two and an accidental collision with HS Racing during a mark rounding.
Sebastian Tenghage, Swedish shore team member and reserve sailor for Artemis Racing White, explains his long night ahead. “Unfortunately we had to lift out the boat and start doing some repairs on the bow and other bits and pieces that have broken during racing. It shouldn’t be an all-nighter and we will be ready for racing tomorrow.”
Both match races on Saturday will feature teammates competing. The JP Morgan BAR crew is part of the Oracle Team USA roster for the 34th America’s Cup, and Luna Rossa Piranha will face Luna Rossa Swordfish in the second semifinal.
Ainslie is looking forwarded to the race against fellow Olympic gold-medallist Tom Slingsby. “The match racing semi-finals are going to be great, we have been training with Orace Team USA a little bit before this event so there will be plenty of bragging rights in house, so I’m looking forward to that. They had a fantastic day today so it should be a close race.”
JPMorgan BAR heads into the penultimate day of racing in fourth place overall, just three points separate the top four teams and with the loaded points on the final race on Super Sunday there is everything still to play for.
With three fleet races remaining, including the Super Sunday, just three points split the top four teams.
Racing resumes tomorrow at midday UTC.
America’s Cup World Series Naples Championship Standings (after 4 of 7 scheduled races)
1. Oracle Team USA (Tom Slingsby) – 38 points
2. Energy Team (Yann Guichard) – 36
3. Emirates Team New Zealand (Dean Barker) – 36
4. J.P. Morgan BAR (Ben Ainslie) – 35
5. Luna Rossa Piranha (Chris Draper) – 33
6. Luna Rossa Swordfish (Francesco Bruni) – 23
7. Artemis Racing White (Charlie Ekberg) – 21
8. HS Racing (R. Hagara/H.S. Steinacher) – 17
9. China Team (Mitch Booth) – 14
Saturday’s Match Racing Schedule
Semifinal 1: Luna Rossa Piranha vs. Luna Rossa Swordfish
Semifinal 2: Oracle Team USA Slingsby vs. J.P. Morgan BAR
From Carlo Borlenghi/Luna Rossa/www.borlenghi.com