Friday, November 20, 2009

Strong breeze and close races highlight day at Louis Vuitton Trophy

[Source: Louis Vuitton Trophy] TeamOrigin and Azzurra are tied 1-1 while Emirates Team New Zealand and Synergy await the outcome of a protest.

Emirates Team New Zealand has been the strongest team at the Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice Côte d’Azur. Synergy Russia Sailing Team has been the most surprising. Those forces collided today in the Semi Final Round of the regatta, and tonight the two teams are in the protest room trying to resolve an incident at the finish of their second race.

Team New Zealand won a thrilling first race by 20 seconds. The heat featured three lead changes and the Kiwis won after gaining control in a luffing match with the finish line about 10 lengths away.

Great victory for Team Origin against Azzurra in their 2nd semifinal race. Nice, 20 November 2009. Photo copyright Ian Roman / Team Origin

“It was all on, a very close race,” said Team New Zealand tactician Ray Davies. “It was pretty tense onboard. You have to expect close races in this round. We’re down to the best teams and you have to expect close, ding-dong races otherwise they wouldn’t be worth winning.”

In the second race Team New Zealand was penalised in the pre-start for gybing too close. The Kiwis controlled the race around the track, but couldn’t get enough separation to perform the 270-degree penalty turn and convert the win.

A collision occurred when the pair was outside the committee boat end of the finish line. According to Synergy skipper Karol Jablonski, Team New Zealand called for water to clear the boat end. Jablonski said he responded to the call, but the yachts were downspeed and he had little steerage. The two 24-tonne yachts collided beam-on-beam and suffered some damage.

Although Synergy won the match on the water to even the score at 1-1, the protest was still hanging in the balance. A ruling was expected later tonight.

This regatta has suffered through starts and stops the past two weeks due to light winds. But that was all in distant memory today as the conditions on the Baie des Anges kicked up and added a compelling measure to the racing. Five penalties were issued and two teams were OCS as the conditions put a premium on boathandling.

After the morning offshore flow died, the wind shifted to the east and built to 15 knots, with gusts up to 18 knots. There was also a large seaway running as the winds offshore were blowing up to 25 knots.

TeamOrigin of Great Britain evened its match with Azzurra of Italy at 1-1. British skipper Ben Ainslie gained two penalties on his Italian counterpart, Francesco Bruni, in the 5-minute pre-start sequence. Bruni then misjudged his time and distance to the start line. After re-starting Azzurra was well behind TeamOrigin, which won the race by 2 minutes, 29 seconds.

Great victory for Team Origin against Azzurra in their 2nd semifinal race. Nice, 20 November 2009. Photo copyright Ian Roman / Team Origin

“It was great to finally race in some wind and waves,” said Ainslie. “It was a ‘must win’ race for us and the guys did a great job all the way around. We have a long way to go yet in this competition, being first on tomorrow.”

“For sure today was harder for the crew, for everybody,” said Bruni. “To go from 15 days of very, very light wind and flat water to these conditions, to switch is hardest for me. I wasn’t as ready as Ben. I think he did a good job.”

In Knockout Round racing, the combined French/German team All4One placed fifth after winning two races. All4One earned a well-deserved win against Artemis by 27 seconds in its first race, and then met BMW Oracle Racing for 5th and 6th places. BMW Oracle had defeated TFS – PagesJaunes in its first race.

BMW Oracle controlled the match early, but made an unforced error at the windward mark. Approaching the first mark on starboard with All4One on its stern, BMW Oracle helmsman Gavin Brady tacked to port to round the mark. But All4One had to bear away to avoid hitting BMW Oracle, and the on-water umpires issued a red flag penalty.

BMW Oracle had to perform its penalty immediately on the run, and when it did so All4One sailed into a commanding lead. All4One won the match by 1 minute, 23 seconds to place 5th and drop BMW Oracle to 6th.

“This morning we had nothing to lose,” said All4One helmsman Sebastien Col. “We had the best conditions we could dream of for Nice. We were really waiting for these conditions because I think we have a strong team that can handle the boat well in a breeze. We started the regatta slowly and had some tough moments, but we are happy to finish well. It’s good for the team.”

Artemis of Sweden placed 7th on countback, and TFS – PagesJaunes finished 8th.

Racing is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning with a warning signal set for 0830 CET. The first race will be between TeamOrigin and Azzurra.

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