Monday, May 28, 2007

Valencia Sailing talks to James Spithill

Only four days are left till the Louis Vuitton Cup finals and despite the apparent tranquility around Port America's Cup, there is plenty of work going on in the three active bases (Alinghi, Luna Rossa and Emirates Team NZ). Luna Rossa's sailing team is taking these days off and will be back in full action probably on Wednesday. We took advantage of this short break and talked to the Italian team's helmsman James Spithill.

Valencia Sailing: Let's start with the semifinals. Were you surprised to beat BMW Oracle by such a margin?
James Spithill: I was surprised with the score line. Honestly, we always thought it was going to go to the full nine races. When I was preparing and looking at the two teams, we both looked very strong and I could see no reason why it shouldn't go to the nine races. So my answer is yes, we were surprised but the score line doesn't represent how close racing was.

Valencia Sailing: Still, the scoreline shows a great difference. Was that due to Luna Rossa improving considerably or BMW Oracle imploding during the semifinals?
James Spithill: You know it's difficult for me to say what happened inside BMW Oracle since I'm not part of the team but we have been working on that for 3 years now, trying to put the whole package together out on the water and I think we took a good step forward in improving during the round robins. After all, that has always been our goal, to continue our development and keep stepping up after each stage.

Valencia Sailing: Without any doubt, your very successful prestarts played a very important role in your victories against BMW Oracle. Don't you think you sometimes took too much risk for an America's Cup boat and race?
James Spithill: No, because this is what we have been doing in house. The only reason we were really able to go out and push hard with confidence is because we had been pushing very hard with our in-house racing. Philippe Presti and all the guys on ITA-86 have been pushing ITA-94 to the limit. In addition, they have been providing with lots of support during the races, such as analysis and spotting areas where we need to improve. Philippe Presti and Charlie McKee have done a fantastic job.

Valencia Sailing: Will you be equally aggressive against Emirates Team NZ or are you going to have more conservative prestarts?
James Spithill: When we go out to race and we see an opportunity we'll go for it, whether it is in taking an advantage in the prestart, in boathandling or even with the wind. You can also argue Torben Grael was aggressive in the way he raced the wind but he and I think the same way. If we see an opportunity, we are going to get it.

Valencia Sailing: Sure, but you lost your second semifinal race against BMW Oracle because of what a lot of people thought was Torben throwing a dice hoping to get lucky. Is he going to follow more conventional match racing tactics now?

James Spithill: When I look at my team and its tacticians, Charlie McKee and Torben Grael, I wouldn't want anyone else in the back of the boat calling tactics. They both are extremely good in their jobs and among the best in the world. One thing that has been satisfying to me is that we have been able to show we can play a lot of different styles in the game. We can play the read the wind, split, or we can play the tight match racing and go bow for bow. For us it's something we have been working on very hard and it's good to be able to show it. We will keep doing what we have been doing, keep training the same and not change anything.

Valencia Sailing: Turning our attention to other semifinal, were you surprised to see Desafío Español fighting hard and scoring two victories?
James Spithill: No, I wasn't surprised at all. I always had a lot of respect for them. Louis Doreste and Karol Jablonski did a fantastic job and as the home team they had the extra drive and support. I was impressed but not surprised. I knew they were a strong team.

Valencia Sailing: Having seen the Spanish take these two wins do you feel more confident now? Do you think it will be easier for you than you previously thought?
James Spithill: No, I don't. If you look at the round robins, Shosholoza beat us, Desafío Español beat BMW Oracle, Mascalzone Capitalia beat Emirates Team NZ. There were six boats, incredibly close in speed and it only takes one mistake to lose a race. I treat the kiwis with just as much respect as I did with BMW Oracle and I'm sure they are going to be tough.

Valencia Sailing: Seven years ago, Dean Barker beat Francseco de Angelis 5-0 in the America's Cup match. Is this going to be a sort of revenge?
James Spithill: Well, it wasn't exactly Barker that beat Luna Rossa. Russell Coutts's hand was involved in the first 4 victories. A couple of sailors from that match are involved in our team and probably quite a few are with Emirates Team NZ. I am sure they look forward to doing it again.

Valencia Sailing: What is that you fear the most about the New Zealanders?
James Spithill: The fact that when I look carefully at them I don't see any weaknesses. I'm sure they feel the same when they look at us. For me it's just two teams that are extremely evenly matched and I'm sure we will see a real fight on the water.

Valencia Sailing: Will boat speed be an important factor in that fight? Is any of the two boats (ITA-94 and NZL-92) faster than the other one?
James Spithill: Yes, boat speed will be very important as it has always been. For me both boats look very similar. In the last couple of months we only raced them twice, both races were very close and the result is even. We won one and lost one. As I said, our boat and the ones of BMW Oracle, the New Zealanders and Spanish were all really close. I'm expecting the same.

Valencia Sailing: Finally, what will be the determining factor in the Louis Vuitton Cup final, either for you or the New Zealanders?
James Spithill: There is no individual factor. For me it's the whole package. It's a team sport and you can't do just one thing correctly, you have to do everything well. That was the ingredient to our success against BMW Oracle and something we work hard upon for the finals.

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