Kiwis vs Swiss as Americas Cup gets underway
21 June 2007, VALENCIA - America's Cup defender Alinghi of Switzerland and challenger Emirates Team New Zealand are tuning up for a rematch that starts Saturday for sailing's most coveted trophy.
21 June 2007
VALENCIA - America's Cup defender Alinghi of Switzerland and challenger Emirates Team New Zealand are tuning up for a rematch that starts Saturday for sailing's most coveted trophy.
Four years ago, the Kiwis lost the "Auld Mug" to Alinghi, the first European winner in the event's more than 150-year history. New Zealand won the right to challenge the Swiss defender by completing a stunning 5-0 sweep of Italy's Luna Rossa in the challenger finals on June 6.
The Swiss and the Kiwis have been among the most powerful of 12 teams in the Louis Vuitton warm-up regattas, which started in 2004 leading up to the 32nd America's Cup.
On Wednesday, Alinghi announced that it would race SUI-100, ending weeks of speculation over which of two yachts would be used.
"We are very confident with the performance of this boat," said team designer Grant Simmer, even though SUI-100 has never been in real competition.
The challenge now for both teams is to find and keep the mental and team edge for the 17-member crews during a gap in real racing.
For the Kiwis, the gap will be 17 days since their sweep of Luna Rossa. Alinghi hasn't raced in serious competition in 76 days _ since April 7 _ because the defender does not compete in the challenger finals.
"The thing about being the defender is that we don't have the same intensity of racing," Grant Simmer, design team coordinator for Alinghi, said. "That's the risk we face."
Alinghi has held in-house races between its own two boats and sailed against defeated challengers Luna Rossa and Spain's Desafio Espanol on the water.
The Swiss team practiced crucial pre-starts _ a sort of race before the race _ against Desafio Espanol. During the pre-start, the 80-foot carbon fiber yachts jockey for their desired start position.
Against Luna Rossa, with its full race crew, Alinghi had four practice races on June 8.
"There was high intensity and our performance looked very encouraging against them," Simmer said.
The Kiwis raced between their two boats, which their strategist Ray Davies has compared to "dancing with your sister." They also made modifications and tested ways of making any fractional speed gain.
Most of New Zealand's 125-member sailing and shore team was taking two days off this week, resting up for the best-of-nine series of races.
"We're pretty much ready to go racing," Grant Dalton, head of the Kiwi team, said. "It's important to have a little more down time because the next few weeks is going to very intense."
The last time Alinghi and New Zealand met in an official race was on July 2, 2006, when the Kiwis bested Alinghi to take a 2-1 win in Louis Vuitton Act 12.
New Zealand defeated Alinghi four out of the five times they met, although the Kiwis were sailing a new boat, while the Swiss stuck to an old one.
Both teams also have an imposing record against all comers in the Cup fleet. The Kiwis won 84 percent of their starts_ or 90 out of 107 matches, while the Swiss had a success rate of 82 percent, or 61 of 74 races.
Dalton said he expects tough races against Alinghi.
"They have good boat speed, no question about that. And we know the sailing crew is extremely capable," he said. on. "They're still the benchmark."
Of the Kiwis, Alinghi's Simmer said, "They are fast and we are not expecting to have a speed edge on them. ... They are going to be a very tough opponent."
Alinghi was formed in 2000 by biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, who hired many of the Kiwi stars behind that year's Cup win. Irritation in sailing-mad New Zealand turned to fury when Alinghi humiliated New Zealand in 2003 to take the Cup.
Although some Kiwi sailors call the rematch "settling unfinished business," Dalton refused to call it a grudge match.
"We don't see it that way at all," he said. "Revenge doesn't come into it. We want to win yes. Grudge match no."
The America's Cup is named for is first winner, the yacht America in 1851, and the "Auld Mug" is considered the oldest trophy in international sport.
[Copyright AP with Expatica]
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