A Game of Two Starts…

Both Louis Vuitton semi-finals went to 2-1 in the third race…

Two races, two stories, two-one - all settled on the start line when Desafio and Luna Rossa positioned themselves to the right hand side of their respective opponents. And the right paid like a triple rollover lottery... So far, BMW Oracle haven’t been round a single mark in front of Luna Rossa – they have crossed one finish line ahead, by 13s in the second race. But in the third of the series, the Italians repeated their first race clean sweep to take a 31 second win. For Desafio it was a remarkable reversal after the previous defeats - they stuck a penalty on ETNZ in the pre-start, then took the right off the line and came home 1 minute 14 seconds in front.

So, the starts… Desafio turning over the Kiwis is going to get the most attention, so we’ll begin there. The penalty developed from Karol Jablonski, at the helm of Desafio, repeating the move that Jimmy Spithill used to win yesterday’s pre-start against Oracle. From the pin end entry, he bailed out of the dial-up onto starboard, and then gybed round onto port. It sets you up to leeward and if the other boat hasn’t got enough speed to get down and across your bow, you’ve got control.

Dean Barker, at the wheel of ETNZ, may well have been worried about this, or he may just have felt that it was time to try and stick another one on Jablonski - either way, he forced another dial-up, and Jablonski repeated his gybe move. But this time ETNZ tacked away a little too sharply, ended up real slow, and sure enough, Desafio completed the gybe with plenty of pace, came screaming in to leeward, got the overlap and now ETNZ were on the ropes. Barker tried to escape by gybing across Desafio’s bow, and gave away the penalty. From there it got worse for ETNZ, as Desafio tacked away to take the right-hand side of the line. The Kiwis didn’t have the time or position to shut the Spanish out at the boat, although ETNZ got tight to leeward and forced Desafio to tack away. But they were headed for the right hand side of the beat, the Speed Restriction - No Overtaking signs were up all over the race course and that was pretty much that. Game over and Desafio pull it back to 2-1.

Oracle’s start against Luna Rossa was just as interesting. When the pair turned back towards the line on their final approach, Dickson and Oracle defended the left - they headed for the starboard tack layline for the pin. Luna Rossa chased them down there, but seemed more than happy to let Oracle have the left – Spithill said afterwards that their call was to win the right. Luna Rossa tacked away to start on port at the boat, with Oracle starting on starboard at the pin. Game over and Luna Rossa pull out to a 2-1 lead.

The thing here is that you don’t need to be the come-back kings if you win first crosses. And you don’t win first crosses if you can’t win starts and/or pick the right side off the line. Oracle’s come from behind record is great for the spectators, but it indicates what must be a worrying weakness for the boys in white. And today they paid for it.

On the face of it, you’d have to say that Desafio’s overnight reconfiguration (both they and Oracle were issued with new certificates before the race) was more successful than Oracle’s. But I don’t think too much can be drawn from today – the pattern was exactly the same in both races, the right hand side dominated. But having said that, the very fact that Oracle and Desafio have changed something, indicates that they might think they are going a little too quick downwind, and perhaps those wings needed a tweak…

The other thing that changed out there today was Luna Rossa’s tactical approach – Jimmy Spithill admitted as much in the post-race interview. He reckoned they’d talked about it overnight and decided to keep it tighter, and they did so successfully. And what does this mean in the light of my comments yesterday - that the loose tactics were as much about racing an even opponent, as about Torben’s desire to back his hunches? It probably means I was talking rubbish, certainly wouldn’t be the first time - particularly because the alternative conclusion would be that Luna Rossa think they have the measure of Oracle… Now why do I think I'm going to regret even bringing that topic back up?

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Mark Chisnell ©