The first of the 2011-2012 America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) events drew to a close in Cascais, Portugal today, having set a new format competition on the way with style, excitement and huge promise.
Team Korea have enjoyed their introduction to the competition with fantastic success, and are regarded as the ‘surprise of the week’ given their stellar performance, but it wasn’t quite the champagne finish in the last race that people had started to expect from them, taking seventh in the fleet race on ‘Super Sunday’ – the big finale to the event.
This race carries points towards the World Championship title that will finish in July next year, and the team were on a high going into the race, having unexpectedly beaten Russell Coutts of the mighty Oracle Racing team yesterday to advance to the semi-finals of the Match Racing competition. They lost to one of the strongest teams in the event in the form of Emirates Team NZ. But for Team Korea it was an astonishing achievement to reach fourth position at the very first attempt with a brand new team, and widely applauded around the world.
Nine days ago, a seventh in an ACWS fleet race for the White Tiger Challenge (Team Korea) would have been regarded as very respectable, but such has been the remarkable performance of the team since that first warm up day, there is disappointment in the camp tonight, as expectations have risen higher and higher as the results have improved day after day.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a fall was coming, but as the last seconds of the countdown ticked through, Korea were looking to have carved out a good position on the start line, and right on cue, Chris Draper the team’s British skipper gave the command, and their AC45 catamaran known as the ‘White Tiger’ with its distinctive black and white striped hull, sprang into life, blasting down the first leg at top speed and rounding the first mark in a solid fourth position. James Spithill of ORACLE 4 led the pack followed by New Zealand, and both gybe off to the right side of the course followed by Coutts, but Draper decided to keep going in a straight line, gybing off as he said afterwards, ‘about 20 seconds too late’. The boat sailed straight into a hole, the wind lightening as they came to a dramatic halt, watching in dismay as the rest of the fleet gybed to stay with the shifting wind and sailed by.
As has been seen all week, and as the team has painfully experienced, one mistake at this level is often catastrophic, and Korea found themselves seventh within a matter of seconds. Gradually they filled the spectacular ‘Tiger Eye’ Doyle Sails gennaker and picked up the pace again, but reached the bottom mark of this extra long course, pushing for fifth place in the melee around the gate mark. All week the team has shown tremendous speed upwind, and those watching and urging them on expected the ‘routine’ of picking off places to continue. But today the contest had an extra edge to it, and that proved more difficult than previously with the teams all sailing well. Rounding the top mark they were struggling to improve in the lighter and shiftier wind, and while there was a superb battle at the front of the fleet between the ‘big teams’, it wasn’t to be Team Korea’s day, failing to find the boat speed they had become accustomed to in Cascais.
As we had seen earlier in the week, there are some teams that thrive in these wind conditions, and GreenCom Racing from Spain had an excellent race taking fifth over the line – their best result when it mattered, having finished last most of the time in the stronger breeze. Emirates Team New Zealand won yet again, their performance almost faultless, but allowing Artemis from Sweden to come back at them in the closing stages and make for an exciting finish between them, together with James Spithill’s ORACLE 4. With Terry Hutchinson of the USA helming Artemis, his light wind experience came to the fore, crossing second ahead of Spithill, with Coutts taking fourth. A dejected Draper crossed in seventh place behind Aleph from France, another team that Korea has been outpacing all week, a huge disappointment for the team knowing what might have, and probably should have been a better result based on their earlier results.
Commenting shortly afterwards Chris said, ‘’our performance today is very sad, it’s our worst result of the week in the race that really counts, and not only do we know we can sail better than that, but have been proving it all week. It’s sad to finish on this note, but it’s fantastic what we have done here overall. I am so pleased with what we have achieved this week, as we have surpassed our expectations in so many ways. At the end of the day, it’s about the America’s Cup, and that’s what we are focusing on, so this has been an incredible week of learning, not just for us but for everyone. We are going to get bad races we know, but it’s about how we react to them and bounce back. We’re annoyed about today, but it means we are going to have to be even stronger in Plymouth and we are looking forward to the next one ’’.
The team has won many fans both here and around the world, and shown that they can be extremely competitive. CEO Kim Dong-Young said, ‘’today we are a little disappointed with seventh place, and it’s absolutely clear we need more support, more money and more training. This is not an easy competition and is a big challenge for us as a new nation to the America’s Cup, with a long way to go and a lot to learn still, but it is fantastic to see Korea competing against the biggest teams at the highest level of the sport. The good thing for us is that we can see the opportunity and the possibilities for the team after this event. I am very happy at how we have done overall, a huge experience, and now we know what we have to do to be up with Team New Zealand, Artemis and ORACLE. Before we came, we were worried that we might finish last and be embarrassed by our performance, but it’s completely the opposite – the whole world knows that Team Korea has arrived and is a serious contender’’.
There has been tremendous support for the team from within the sailing community who have welcomed Korea into the America’s Cup ‘family’, while spectators have cheered them on with enthusiasm. The results have come through the week, counting a superb second place in the AC500 Speed Trials event, leading fleet races, and finishing a surprising fifth overall to qualify for the next stage, the match racing finals, at the very first attempt. Yesterday was the true ‘champagne’ moment for the team, one that will long be talked about in beating Russell Coutts, the greatest America’s Cup sailor of all time in their first ever match to reach the semi finals, finishing fourth. That could never have predicted a week ago, and the praise for the team has been flowing.
Speaking after the closing press conference today, Russell Coutts said, ‘’I expected Team Korea to be good, but they have proved to be very good. It’s a fantastic team, and they have made some really good decisions on who to get involved. I believe they could be really competitive in this America’s Cup, and there’s no reason why they can’t go on and actually win it...’’.
ACWS Regatta Director, Iain Murray said, ‘’this has been an excellent week, and we’ve produced high quality races that people doubted we could deliver in a short space of time like this. I haven’t been surprised that Team Korea have done so well here, the crew is a quality act, but to put a team together like this for the first event and perform as well as they have is wonderful achievement really, so with more time in the boat, and some more resource, I think you will see even further improvement. With this high speed racing, where there are big gains and big losses by small mistakes, there’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of people, and so the smart guys and the good sailors will always come through, and the Korean team has got that and should do really well moving forward from here’’.
The show now moves to the UK for the second America’s Cup World Series event, to Plymouth on the south-west coast where huge crowds are expected as the America’s Cup returns to the country where it was first contested, 160-years ago.
Together with some of the smaller teams, Korea plans to arrive early and train hard ahead of the regatta, with hopes high that they can improve further and close the gap on the big three teams ahead of them. The contest begins with the preliminary fleet races on September 10th, with the finals over the following weekend, closing on the 18th. With a big Korean community resident in Britain, support for the team is expected to again be high, and hopeful that the results will flow after the team has analysed the lessons from Cascais.
Kim Dong-Young said, ‘’this has been an amazing event for us, and we have opened people’s eyes around the world. Now we are focusing on improvement, fewer mistakes, and building our team stronger and broader. It’s been a tremendous start to our America’s Cup campaign, and there is a long road ahead to San Francisco in 2013, but the White Tiger Challenge has taken its first steps with what can only be considered a marvelous success by all’’. About Team Korea
Team Korea is the newest nation to enter the America’s Cup, representing the Sail Korea Yacht Club based in Seoul. Fondly known as the ‘White Tiger Challenge’, the White Tiger is a revered and ancient Guardian God of the west, the only god based on a living creature, a potent and powerful beast. The team recently hosted a visit of the America’s Cup trophy in Seoul for the first time in history, courtesy of Brooks Brothers Korea. The prestigious Louis Vuitton Cup was also presented to the press at the same time in Seoul on a very significant day in the continued development of Team Korea. Sponsors of the team include Sail Racing high performance clothing.