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Kiwis take early lead in Louis Vuitton Cup

Team New Zealand (right) has won the first three races in a best-of-nine series against Italy's Luna Rossa EQ images

The two remaining challengers for the America's Cup, Italy's Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand, have begun their fight to decide who will face Swiss defender Alinghi.

This content was published on June 2, 2007 - 11:02

The two syndicates are vying to win a best-of-nine series of races off Valencia in Spain – and thereby the Louis Vuitton Cup – with first blood going to New Zealand.

With around 200 spectator boats and a large crowd at Port America's Cup looking on, the Kiwis and the Italians were even to start on Friday.

The New Zealand team's slight superiority in speed was the difference on the final lap, as it held despite nervously covering Luna Rossa's final gybe to cross the line eight seconds ahead.

Team New Zealand then extended its lead on Saturday and then Sunday to 3-0.

With both teams winning nearly every one of their races when leading around the first marker, the smallest advantage can be significant in reaching the America's Cup, sailing's biggest prize, which starts June 23.

"We prepare our team as best as we can for Luna Rossa," said Team New Zealand's American tactician Terry Hutchinson before the first race. "In the previous races Luna Rossa was maybe underestimated and we don't want to make that mistake."

The Italians romped to a five-one win over American billionaire Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle Racing in the semifinals, with Luna Rossa's young Australian helmsman James Spithill dominating the sole American entry out of the starting gate.

The Italians entered that series as underdogs, and the Kiwis are slight favourites for this series, which is a rematch of the 2000 America's Cup when the New Zealanders sailed to a five-nil sweep over Luna Rossa.

Pre-starts

The Kiwis still want to improve their pre-starts. Helmsman Dean Barker was better with each semifinals race against Spanish opponent Desafio Espanol and knows positioning will likely dictate who controls the race.

"You take it one start, one beat, one leg at a time," Hutchinson said. "You try to capitalise on mistakes they might make."

BMW Oracle navigator Peter Isler expects the series to go the distance, with the pre-start important, but not necessarily the deciding factor.

"The helmsmen don't want to get too aggressive and risk penalties, because that's a big thing to overcome," said the three-time America's Cup veteran.

"A good start (to the series) is important because once you get on a roll, the momentum can really make the difference," he added. "A team starts taking risks when they're down and they really shouldn't because it's a long series."

Experience

Team New Zealand hold a clear edge in experience, with 48 America's Cup campaigns among its crew compared to 32 for Luna Rossa's boat.

The two yachts split their America's Cup challengers series round-robin matches, but the Kiwis are slightly better when the racing is tight and features rapid calls.

Luna Rossa's trump card could be tactician Torben Grael, the most successful Olympic sailor of all time.

The five-time medallist from Brazil has been calling wind shifts with such accuracy that the Italians have had to tack less and can concentrate on winning on long runs where they have excelled.

swissinfo with agencies

Luna Rossa Challenge
Yacht club: Yacht Club Italiano (Genoa)
Team head: Patrizio Bertelli
Skipper: Francesco de Angelis
Helmsmen: James Spithill, Francesco de Angelis
Architect: Luna Rossa Design Team

Emirates Team New Zealand
Yacht club: Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (Auckland)
General director: Grant Dalton
Team director: Kevin Shoebridge
Skipper: Dean Barker
Helmsmen: Dean Barker, Ben Ainslie
Architects: Andy Claughton and ETNZ Design Team

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