by Tim Jeffery
America's Cup World Series (ACWS) Venice, the penultimate event of the 2011-12 season, gets underway on 17th May. Oracle Team USA Spithill heads into Thursday’s start of the ACWS – Venice looking to extend its overall lead.
Oracle Team USA - America’s Cup World Series 2012
Oracle Team USA Spithill leads the overall standings by one point after placing second last month in Naples. That helped skipper Jimmy Spithill and his four-man crew leap Emirates Team New Zealand into the top spot. Teams have been accumulating points in the two formats since the first regatta last August in Portugal.
Venice figures to be more than just a change of scenery. The 14th century Gothic architecture of the historic city will provide a photogenic backdrop for the speedy AC45 wingsail catamarans, and a tight racecourse will keep crews jumping more than normal on the athletic cats.
'I think it’s going to be a fantastic event from an iconic picture – racing in the canals of Venice is gonna be cool,' said Spithill, who at 30 years of age in 2010 became the youngest skipper to ever win the America’s Cup.
At today’s opening press conference Spithill recognized Italian soccer star Gianluigi 'Gigi' Buffon by wearing a jersey of the Italian national team. Buffon was goalkeeper for Italy when it won the World Cup in 2006 and also stars for Serie A club Juventus F.C. Spithill and Buffon traded jerseys yesterday after Buffon sailed on the canals with Oracle Team USA.
'Gigi is a legend,' Spithill said. 'He sailed with us yesterday. It’s great to be able to show athletes from other codes how athletic our sport is. These guys are blown away by what they see.'
Oracle Team USA Bundock holds fifth in the overall standings, 20 points behind Spithill and crew. Skipper Darren Bundock will welcome a new tactician to his crew: Russell Coutts, the team CEO and four-time America’s Cup winner. Coutts steps in for Tom Slingsby, who is taking time to focus on his Laser campaign for the London Olympics.
'Russell is a true legend in the America’s Cup and a great addition to our boat tactically. Russell has been thrown in at the deep end. He’s up front, pulling ropes and seeing how physical he’s made these boats! How often do you get to boss the boss around? Normally he’s used to be being at the back of the boat giving orders. Now he’s at the front coping with them.'
Racing in Venice will be a mixture of fleet and match racing. The final fleet race on Sunday, May 20, will award more points than the first six races – 30 points for first as opposed to 10 points – which should afford many in the fleet an opportunity to shake-up the standings.
'Most of the teams in Naples put in a lot of practice time. We’re seeing a bit of equalization going on where anyone can win a race,' said Team USA Spithill tactician John Kostecki. 'It’s becoming tougher to get an advantage and be at the very top. That’s a good evolution and I’m sure we’ll see more of that to come in Venice.'
'I think the racecourse could be really tricky,' Spithill said. 'The racing will be inshore, flat water, narrow lanes… the boundary will be the shoreline. That’ll be great for the spectators and I think we’ll see a lot of people.'
ACWS – Venice is the fifth of six stops on the inaugural America’s Cup World Series. The final event is scheduled for Newport, R.I., home to the Cup for 25 years, in late June.
2011-12 America’s Cup World Series Overall Standings
Team (Country) Match – Fleet — Total
1. Oracle Team USA Spithill (USA) 30 – 37 — 67
2. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) 30 – 36 — 66
3. Artemis Racing (SWE) 33 – 21 — 54
4. Energy Team (FRA) 25 – 23 — 48
5. Oracle Team USA Bundock (USA) 26 – 21 — 47
5. Team Korea (KOR) 25 – 22 — 47
7. China Team (CHN) 11 – 13 — 24
8. Green Comm Racing (ESP) 11 – 12 — 23
9. Luna Rossa Piranha 9 – 10 — 19
10. Luna Rossa Swordfish 7 – 5 — 12
(After four of six scheduled events)
Oracle Team USA website