Friday, April 20, 2007

Racing at Last

During his coaching stint with Shosholoza, Dee Smith said something that stuck in my head. He said, "Some of these teams would be struggling in any grand prix environment." Turn that around and a crack grand prix team ought to be able to make the grade, which is exactly what was happening for the Latin Rascals, Mascalzone Latino, in Friday's upset win over Emirates Team New Zealand. Vincenzo Onorato and his guys are the reigning Farr 40 world champions. They paid their ACC dues in Auckland, and it would seem that Harry Dunning's design crew has given them a good toy to play with.

Of course it's early. We've seen just one day of racing—in winds a bit lighter than what is promised for summer—but there was no overlooking the confident manner in which Mascalzone Latino met the Kiwis, executed as needed, and won the opening race. And then came back, all business, and did it again against the admittedly weaker Areva.

All that talk about how the pre-event racing closed up the ranks? Maybe there's something to it.

Helmsman Flavio Favini is a rockin' Melges 24 skipper, but Denmark's Jes Gram-Hansen drives the starts on Mascalzone Latino. Bossman Onorato has a track record as a sailor, and previously he crewed in support roles here on grinders and runners. For this eliminations series, however, he stepped off the boat. In his words, "Jes turns over the wheel right after the start and jumps to the back of the boat. If I'm there too, that makes two little guys in back, which is one too many."

Bowman Paolo Bottari dropped by after the race to give his version of events. The discussion was conducted in Italian, so you won't learn much from me, but I think he was pretty happy.

Appointed (or condemned) to meet the press after the racing was Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Terry Hutchinson (also a ranking player on the Farr 40 circuit). That's Terry all the way to the left. He was quite a popular guy, as you see.

Genial. Steady. No nonsense. And the delta was a mere 15 seconds. Terry's assessment:

"We set ourselves up to start on the left. Mascalzone had a great time-distance run to the line while we executed our own game plan perfectly, but it was the wrong game plan."

And there they went . . .

Photo ACM 2007/Vicent Bosch

It was a big day also for Desafio Español, coming back from a pretty lame port-tack foul in the prestart to beat +39 by 2:45 after making enough on the first upwind leg to get away with a penalty turn on the layline. Tactician John Cutler said, "We were confident in the side that we chose, and everybody was calm. Karol [Jablonski, helmsman] said a few choice words and then we were right back in it."

Shosholoza won its race against Germany, which occasioned a round of celebrating in Valencia for the popular underdog team from South Africa. Pitman and boat captain Tim Kröger said, "Our victory against the Germans means a lot to me. The conditions
were difficult, with light winds, and Germany is not slow downwind in such light airs."

As for losing to Sweden's Victory Challenge, Kröger said, "Well, we lost a lot already going about, right after the start, and perhaps we even lost the match then. We couldn't manage to edge them to the right; it would have been ideal but we just couldn't make it. So they were always a half a boat's length ahead of us. We are quite disappointed because the Swedes are our direct opponents; we compete eye to eye."

Expect an update on a "reboot" for the racing sked. Challenger reps were meeting Friday night.

Regarding that close Mascalzone-ETNZ finish, I also see some pretty spread-out finish times below—Kimball

ROUND ROBIN 1, First Day of Racing

Mascalzone Latino d. Emirates Team New Zealand: 15 seconds
Areva d. +39: 1:09
BMW Oracle d. United Internet Team Germany: 2:00
Victory d. Shosholoza: 46
Luna Rossa d. China Team: 2:07

Desafio Espanol d. +39: 2:45
Mascalzone Latino d. Areva: 1:41
Shosholoza d. Germany: 1:10
BMW Oracle d. China: 4:36
Luna Rossa d. Victory: 1:07