Wind, waves force delay in opener

Ex-champ Koch predicts closely contested series

January 25, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Gale-force winds and heavy seas forced the postponement of the first race in the best-of-nine America's Cup challenger finals today.

The howling, northwesterly winds and rain lashing the course today are expected to abate overnight and allow the challengers, AmericaOne and Italy's Prada, to start on time tomorrow.

The conditions, however, will mean lumpy and potentially dangerous seas will remain, and this could further affect the prospects for racing.

Neither competitor ventured out in the conditions. But the down time gave the teams a chance to reflect on statistical evidence brought to light by Bill Koch, skipper of America3, winner of the America's Cup in 1992.

Koch pointed out that AmericaOne has won three of five races against Prada in previous elimination races leading to this showdown. In one race, Prada withdrew with a broken mast.

The average margin of victory in all of the 195 races so far in this regatta, Koch said, has been 1 minute, 53 seconds. But the AmericaOne-Prada matches have been much closer.

"Prada won a race by 17 seconds, the other by 1 minute, 6 seconds," he said. "AmericaOne won its races by 23 seconds and 8 seconds. [The third victory came after Prada broke its mast.] This has been the closest racing in the history of the America's Cup."

Prada has gained on nine out of 11 windward legs by an average of 21 seconds. AmericaOne has gained on two of 11 by an average of 41 seconds.

On 11 leeward (downwind) legs, Prada has gained an average of 19 seconds on five of them. AmericaOne has gained on six legs by an average of 27 seconds.

Prada has won three of the five starts. The Italians also have been the first boat to the windward mark three times.

"This is important," Koch said, "because the first boat to the windward mark has an enormous advantage in that she can play the wind shifts first and/or closely cover, cutting off any passing lanes.

"In the Prada-AmericaOne races, the first boat to the windward mark has won 75 percent of the time," he said.

"Both teams have shown that they can win when it counts and are mentally tough enough to come back after a major setback.

"To win, Prada will have to keep her upwind speed advantage while speeding downwind and improve her downwind covering and tactics. For AmericaOne to win, she must increase her upwind speed."

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