Mojo Risin'

Emirates TNZ are on a roll...

Dean Barker and his Kiwi team took the second of the weekend’s two Louis Vuitton Final races to go 3-0 up. If you're back on the blog after a weekend away from the computer, you can check out Saturday's race here...

Sunday's delta of one minute and 38 seconds sounds bad for Luna Rossa and it was – they led off the line by more than a boat length. The mojo is with the Kiwis now, and the Italian team will need something special if they’re to turn this around.

And it had all started so beautifully for them, with Jimmy Spithill and Luna Rossa extracting every ounce of advantage from their starboard tack entry. It was a phenomenal exhibition of boat handling in the dial-up - these machines with their skinny foils will stall quicker than a learner drive on a hill start. The two boats ghosted to a halt, head to wind in the light 8-9 knot sea breeze, and then backed down the same tracks they had gone up.

In that wind strength the pressure is always on the port entry boat as the clock ticks down, and Luna Rossa showed no sign of opening the door even a crack for ETNZ and Dean Barker to escape. So, with just a minute and fifteen seconds on the clock, ETNZ finally sheeted in on port, with Luna Rossa to leeward, heading for the committee boat to try and wipe off the Italians.
Barker responded to a gentle luff from Luna Rossa with 40 seconds left on the clock, and Jimmy Spithill took the opportunity to bear away and leave them. Luna Rossa accelerated into a gybe and started at full speed, mid-line on starboard. At the press conference, Luna Rossa’s Ben Durham said that they were happy to get down the other end of the line to take an eight degree bias advantage, along with the full speed build.

Dean Barker managed to bear away hard and get down inside the committee boat, and with ten seconds to go ETNZ tacked round to start at the boat. Luna Rossa had given the Kiwis an opportunity to get their weather call, which was to start ‘wide right’ – meaning on the right of the opponent with enough separation to follow them out to the left hand side of the course. But it came at a price - ETNZ must have been a knot or two slower than the Italians at the gun, with the foils still struggling to get attached flow. And soon after the start, Luna Rossa was a full boat length in front.

On either of the previous two days, this would surely have been enough for the Italians to take the lead and an almost certain win. But it wasn’t to be – the reversal came with a brutal speed that must have rocked the Italian Challenge. The gain line immediately started to click in the Kiwi’s favour. The tracks showed the story – the New Zealand boat was sailing higher and they lifted off Luna Rossa and went from a length behind to a length in front in about four minutes. Ray Davies, the ETNZ strategist, said they had both more wind and a right hand shift. Before the start, they had thought that the right hand side was a little stronger, especially at the top of the course, but it turned out to be a lot better. ‘Sometimes,’ he told the press conference, ‘it’s better to be lucky than to be good…’

It will be little consolation to the Italian team. Luna Rossa’s tactician, Torben Grael, hung on to that starboard tack off the line for a long while, hoping that the left shift would come back. And a couple of times it looked like it might, but when they finally had to tack and set up the first cross, ETNZ was a couple of lengths clear. Worse, the game was already almost to the port tack layline and Grael’s opposite number, Terry Hutchinson, showed no mercy in punishing the Italians for their positioning – ETNZ led round the first mark by 40 seconds.

And that was it, perhaps we should draw a veil over the rest, to spare sensitive Italian fans the gory spectacle… but in reality the final delta made it look worse than it was. Luna Rossa dropped no time on the second beat, and all but 15 seconds of the rest came on the final run, when they sailed themselves into a hole in an increasingly desperate search for the leverage that might get them back into it.

But still... It was a lighter breeze today, and there was always an opinion that the Kiwis had the better hull shape for under ten knots, particularly downwind. There’s not much Luna Rossa can do to change that. They had switched to their light air mainsail. The Kiwis made the change yesterday, and Magnus Holmberg told the television audience that Luna Rossa had indicated to him that they should perhaps have matched that call – but it didn’t seem to help in race three. At no point did Luna Rossa look quicker. But that could just as easily have been because once again, Terry Hutchinson hogged all the pressure and the best shifts for ETNZ and left Torben Grael with nada.

What is incontrovertible is that the Italian team are now 3-0 down, and deep in the hole. And they’ll know that it could so easily have been different - if they’d used the advantage in the pre-start to take the right, or perhaps tacked straight at a downspeed ETNZ off the line. But neither Davies nor Durham thought Luna Rossa could ever have crossed and got the right - maybe the Italians, even with the extra tacks, would have got a solid leebow at the first cross. They might have both ended up on port headed to the right and who knows...

But those are exactly the avenues of thought that they have to avoid. If only… helps them not one whit. They have to keep believing it’s possible. And they have to regroup on Monday’s reserve day. Max Sirena, Luna Rossa’s mid-bowman, told the press conference that the afterguard were meeting to decide just what was the best use of the day's respite.

So what is it? A day of beating up on their second boat in pre-start practice? Or maybe a change to the boat – but if you haven’t found it in four years, you aren’t likely to find it in 24 hours. Maybe they just need a day on the beach to try and erase the nightmare that has engulfed them. Ray Davies pointed out at the press conference that these big leads are often overturned on the match race circuit. But, for whatever reason, it doesn’t happen much in these boats.

As Francesco de Angelis reiterated in the post-race interview, they can only keep doing the right things and taking it one race at a time. But it’s a long road from here to the America’s Cup for Italy…

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Mark Chisnell ©