After bumpy start, Prada holds off AmericaOne in Race 1

Despite penalty, Italians triumph by 24 seconds


January 26, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Italian challenger Prada won the first race in the America's Cup best-of-nine challenger finals today with an exciting 24-second victory over Paul Cayard's AmericaOne.

In one of the closest races of the challenger series, the Italians sailed with great style and courage. Their victory was all the more extraordinary because of a dramatic penalty they incurred before the start.

As the boats came around to face the start line with seven seconds to the start gun, Prada stayed too close to the Americans, and its starboard bow kissed the port quarter of AmericaOne. Prada would be forced to take a mandatory 270-degree penalty turn sometime during the race.

Prada applied a loose cover as the boats raced up the first beat. Prada tactician Torben Grael picked the shifts beautifully and put his crew around the first mark 25 seconds ahead.

The spinnaker work on both boats was fast as they raced downwind, and the Italians were just far enough in front to stay clear of the wind shadow being projected out from AmericaOne. Six times they jibed, but on each occasion the Italians extended their lead. Prada rounded the first leeward mark 33 seconds ahead.

On the second beat, the Italians took a risk in relinquishing their cover on AmericaOne and sailed to the right, allowing the Americans to go left. Italian skipper Francesco de Angelis sailed farther to the right. Just then, the wind shifted to the right and gained in strength. The Italians went farther ahead until just before the top mark, with about a minute up their sleeves, they dived into their penalty turn and emerged back on track to round 25 seconds in front -- the same lead they held at the first mark.

At the leeward mark, the Italians rounded 33 seconds ahead. AmericaOne tacked, tacked and tacked again, trying to wriggle out from under Prada's cover and force an Italian error.

But halfway up the beat the Italians stoped playing Cayard's game and went with the shifts that lifted them up and away from the Americans. At the top mark Prada rounded 28 seconds ahead.

Both boats set their gennakers downwind on the final leg. Now it was AmericaOne's turn to apply the pressure. Cayard drew closer, and halfway down the leg the Americans came down on them. The Italians positioned themselves to approach the finish on starboard jibe. They came at AmericaOne and jibed again right on the American bow.

AmericaOne tried one last desperate move. Cayard jibed onto starboard and tried to sneak over the line at the pin end. But Prada held on for the win.

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