Prada pushes series to limit

Penalty costs Cayard

9th race will decide America's Cup spot

February 05, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- The Italian challenger Prada recorded a 37-second win over AmericaOne today to even the score in the America's Cup best-of-nine challengers finals at 4-4.

The challenger to defender Team New Zealand will be decided tomorrow in the deciding ninth race.

AmericaOne's skipper, Paul Cayard, was penalized on the first downwind leg for failing to respond to a luff. The penalty meant AmericaOne had to make a 270-degree turn at some point. Cayard did so just before the finish, when the outcome was decided.

Cayard expressed astonishment at the umpire's decision to penalize him.

"We were rolling them," he said, "and [Prada] luffed us. We didn't hit or anything, so I'm not sure what the umpire had in mind. Of course we were the windward boat, so we had to keep clear, I guess. Obviously, they must have felt we got pretty close to them."

Cayard said his strategy for the final race tomorrow would not change.

"We're just going to go out and give them a tough race and see where the chips fall," he said. "The boats are very even, and the races are very close. Going into today there were two races left and the odds were that each of us would win one. So, that looks good for us tomorrow."

The Italians led from start to finish today in one of the closest match races of what has been an extraordinarily close series. The Italians, badly shaken by three successive American wins, regained their composure today and sailed a faultless, carefully judged and conservative race.

The race started in sunny conditions with a 14-knot southwesterly breeze. There would be no crazy split tacks today as there were yesterday in AmericaOne's lopsided victory in Race 7.

After 10 minutes, Prada had eased out about 30 meters ahead of AmericaOne, sailing a little higher, a little faster. It was still not far enough to tack in front of the Americans, but enough to boost Italian morale.

Prada was able to sail bow-down, building speed for the first mark. Cayard was heard to ask nervously, "Are they going to roll us?"

The Italians were in front and in command. That much became clear when just before the mark AmericaOne appeared to misjudge the lay line and had to make two quick tacks as it went for the mark while the Italians, laying it perfectly, went around 20 seconds ahead.

Both boats set port spinnakers -- a lime-green kite on AmericaOne and a white spinnaker on Prada's boat, Luna Rossa.

After 15 minutes, Prada, clearly feeling AmericaOne's pressure, jibed to starboard to keep its air clear. AmericaOne jibed, and though it was a little clumsy, it was clear Cayard's crew had closed the gap significantly.

With both boats on starboard and AmericaOne just a few meters away to windward, the Italians established a controlling overlap. The Americans, as windward boat, were obliged to keep clear.

The American spinnaker collapsed and at the same time the Italians slowly luffed them. The Italian crew shouted and gesticulated at the Americans, but Cayard failed to respond -- the third time in this series that he has done so.

The Italians immediately called for a penalty, and the on-water umpire agreed.

Up went a blue ball on the umpire's boat signifying that AmericaOne was obliged to take a 270-degree penalty turn at a time of Cayard's choosing sometime before the finish. Such a turn would cost upward of 40 seconds.

The Americans were in trouble. Tactician John Kostecki advised Cayard to "stay close and pass 'em on the run."

With 45 meters between them, it sounded like wishful thinking. The difference at the windward mark was 30 seconds, an 11-second gain for Prada.

On the next leg, AmericaOne, riding the freshening breeze, began to close the gap. Cayard tried to get close enough to force the Italians into a foul that would offset their own penalty. There would certainly be no opportunity for the Americans to do it on the next windward leg. The lead at the leeward mark was 17 seconds, a gain of 13 seconds for AmericaOne.

Cayard initiated a tacking duel in the hope the Italians might come to grief. There were seven short tacks each in quick succession, but still the Italians held their lead of four boat-lengths.

Cayard initiated another tacking duel, but after seven short tacks broke off and concentrated on building speed.

As they approached the windward mark for the last time, it was clear Cayard had made a significant gain. Prada led at the fifth mark by 16 seconds.

Both boats set asymmetrical gennakers better set for the lighter conditions. AmericaOne was trying very hard to roll over Prada, but with 48 meters between the racing boats, the Italians were able to keep their wind clear.

In the middle of the course with just 43 meters between them, Prada jibed to port and the Americans followed on its heels. Almost at the port lay line it became clear that Prada could not jibe. AmericaOne jibed to starboard. The Italians jibed under them.

Cayard's only hope was to roll over the Italians on the final dash and seize a position from which he might force a foul. There was no such opportunity.

As Prada finished what would have been just seconds ahead, AmericaOne made its penalty turn, and finished 37 seconds behind.

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