Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Hammered and Happy

I note in the online forums that there are people who disapprove of the 10,000-euro penalties imposed upon Mascalzone Latino for its two infractions—illegal paint, and backstay abuse. Well, guys, we're not in Kansas anymore. There's serious money on the table (and under the table) in Valencia, and America's Cup Management has placed its bets on keeping people in the game and hotting-up the game when they can. This is the America's Cup monetized. Only two things separate this event from Formula One auto racing: A time-proven revenue model (as in, returning sponsors, and maybe they're there, I just don't know) and a ticket price to get through the gate. But there are only two entrances to Port America's Cup, and everyone passes through security, so that last part wouldn't be hard to fix. I'm not saying what's right or wrong, I'm just telling you that you're welcome to your opinions, and they don't care.

Heh. That's a footnote that I moved to the top. In a blog, you can do anything you want. Today's blog begins . . .

On Channel 1 this week they're showing America's Cup footage every day on the morning news. Yes, in Spain there is a Channel 1. And every day they've been showing the Spanish boat, Desafío Español.

Not much else. Viva España.

If you were a Cup fanatic in Valencia trying to figure out what's going on by watching Channel 1, you'd be pretty frustrated.

If you were a Cup newcomer watching the celebration down at Desafío Español today—champagne spewing, crew tossed overboard—at the end of their hammering by BMW Oracle, you might be pretty confused unless you had the additional bit of intelligence that what they actually were celebrating was the defeat of Sweden's Victory Challenge by come-from-behind Emirates Team New Zealand. With that loss the Swedes are eliminated and Spain is confirmed as a member of the final four. Not a favorite to survive the semifinals, but alive.

As I learned in my days as a newspaperman, the local angle is everything.

And, nothing against the Swedish team eliminated today, but it will make the coming weeks more colorful to have a Spanish team to keep our national hosts involved.

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle Racing

We still have racing on Wednesday, but Tuesday's loss to +39 was the last round for China Team, which draws a bye for the final flight. There's some interest in Luna Rossa vs. Desafío Español on Wednesday, but if the Spanish catch fire to survive the semi's nobody will be more surprised than they are. The action now is all BMW Oracle vs. New Zealand, a final matchup for the number one spot and the right to select an opponent for the semifinal round that starts on Monday. We're talking beady eyeballs.


To Jes Gram-Hansen (starting helmsman, Mascalzone Latino) for some textbook punching in the start against wonderboy James Spithill (Luna Rossa). Perhaps the lesson here is, beware of those who have nothing to lose. Gram-Hansen got underneath Spithill early in the prestart, herded him over the line early—way early—and held him out there until the Mascalzone squad was ready to make an orderly gybe around the committee boat with a perfectly timed entry to the course on the side of their choice. That would have been the right-hand side, though at this point I must note that the left worked fine for Luna Rossa (which started not brilliantly but decently), rounding Mark 1 in front and staying in front.

To Mascalzone Latino for keeping things lively here in Valencia. Yeah, they got nailed on a couple of points where it was screwball to be vulnerable—a penalty for using an illegal paint, and a penalty for removing and reattaching a backstay while racing—but Vincenzo Onorato's Latin Rascals added real interest to the round robins, and with their race-one upset of New Zealand, they were anything but boring. Mainsail trimmer Marco Constant (a South African with an enviable resume—a veteran of the 1997-98 Whitbread win of EF Language and of Alinghi's Cup win, for example) figured that Luna Rossa got the smart side of the first beat and also slipped into its range as the breeze dropped below 12 knots. But despite a core consisting of the reining Farr 40 world champions, Mascalzone Latino was another team that came here with no expectations of lifting the Cup.

Quote Unquote Marco Constant

On raising the game in the challenger ranks . . .
We've been racing together and testing together since before the round robins started. There was a point where Prada realized we were capable of beating them, and that in itself probably upped their game.

On the difficulties of making a first-time challenge . . .
We made some fundamental mistakes a year ago, but the other side of it is the fact that the top teams were always going to be there. The only question was, how much could the other teams chip away at them. We left points on the table. We lost races we should have won. Against Areva, for example. That's how you lose a place in the final four.

On the future . . .
Sailing in the Acts we saw that starts were a weak point for us. That's when we brought in Jes Gram-Hansen. He has a killer instinct. That move he put on Spithill today—we have a name for it but I can't really mention it. I'd put Jes ahead of Spithill. And yes, I 'm pretty sure Vincenzo will come back [for another shot at the Cup].

For the record, I listened to two Kiwi versions of their start against Victory Challenge and never got a coherent explanation of what I'm pretty sure was the ugliest start by a top contender in 20 round robin races. It was not a good look.

+39 d. China Team 01:57

Areva Challenge d. United Internet Team Germany 00:35

Luna Rossa d. Mascalzone Latino Capitalia 00:07

Emirates Team New Zealand d. Victory Challenge 00:34

BMW Oracle Racing d. Desafío Español 00:55

Time for the beady eyeball parade—Kimball