Saturday, January 31, 2009

Barker takes Coutts - Round 1

Photo Gilles Martin-Raget / BMW ORACLE Racing Click on Images to enlarge!

Photo Gilles Martin-Raget / BMW ORACLE Racing
Barker Beats Coutts in Waitemata Racing

AUCKLAND, NZ – Russell Coutts was gracious in defeat today after losing a race in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series to Dean Barker, his old crew mate from Emirates Team New Zealand. Sailing the BMW Oracle Racing boat USA 87, Barker beat the Coutts-led American crew in USA 98 by 28 seconds in the first race of the day.

At a press conference in the Race Village afterwards and in front of a big public gallery, Coutts was asked what it felt like when the apprentice beat the master. Coutts answered dryly and with a smile: “It’s happened before!” He added, “We would have been happier with a different result but they won that one pretty convincingly.”

After eight races over the first two days, Emirates Team New Zealand has two points in Pool A, while Pataugas K-Challenge from France and Damiani Italia Challenge each have one point. In Pool B, Switzerland’s Alinghi is the leader with two points while Britain’s TEAMORIGIN has one point.

A shifty, gusty southwest breeze averaging 16 knots delivered challenging racing conditions as the boats raced twice-around 1.7-mile legs from a start line off Rangitoto to a windward mark just off the Orakei Basin. The racers took a break after the third race while commercial ships and a barge moved through the area.

In the first race the promise inherent in the series was realized with a tough, tight race between old rivals Emirates Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle Racing. The Kiwis got the right after a pre-start battle and Coutts fought back, rounding the first leeward mark only two seconds behind. Coutts enjoyed a brief lead, only to see Barker use the leverage of the favored right hand side and kill any chances of an American victory.

Gavin Brady, the Kiwi skipper of the Greek Challenge, and his mixed Greco-Kiwi crew had something to prove after suffering a penalty from a collision yesterday that put them in minus scoring territory. In the second race Brady pounced on the South African boat Shosholoza in the pre-start and the umpires had landed a penalty on his opponents before the start gun had fired. Brady started in frront and worked to a clear 56 second win over South Africa’s Italian skipper and helmsman Paolo Cian.

In similar fashion Francesco Bruni at the helm of the new Italian team Damiani Italia Challenge put his stamp early on the third race. He shut out two-time World Match Racing Tour champion Ian Williams aboard China Team, forcing him above the start boat just before the gun. The Italians won by 1 min 17 sec in a race when the deltas were never less than one minute and the lead at times as much as 500 metres.

In the last race of the day, Alinghi won handsomely by 50 seconds over Virgin Islands match racer Peter Holmberg at the wheel of the Italian boat Luna Rossa. Holmberg mis-timed his last minute manoeuvres approaching the start line and in an effort to win clear air he conceded 40 metres to Ed Baird on Alinghi as they crossed. The Swiss were never threatened again.

The event web site went live this week in English French and Italian. Race reports, press reports, features and photographs are being updated daily. The site includes a link to live streaming radio commentary about the racing originating from Auckland’s radio BSport Sailing 103FM.

The Louis Vuitton Pacific Series is being organised in association with the New Zealand Government, Emirates Team New Zealand, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, Auckland City and SKYCITY Entertainment Group.