The French success story continued at the America’s Cup World Championship Series, San Diego, as after Energy Team’s stunning performance yesterday, Aleph scored three notable victories on the first day of the San Diego Match Racing Championships before their run was halted in somewhat debatable circumstances by Artemis Racing of Sweden.
Introducing new skipper Pierre Pennec has invigorated Aleph, who started out the day with a relatively comfortable win over China Team in the opening match. Team Korea were their next opposition, Chris Draper and his crew a much feared rival after their fantastic run of 5 match race wins in Plymouth at the last event, but certainly not underestimating the task ahead with Aleph going into the start. The match began with Korea looking to be in control during the 2 minute pre-start, but perhaps ‘pulled the trigger’ a little late allowing Pennec to drive over the top and clear at the very first gybe mark.
In a light breeze of 8-10 knots, it was always going to be tough to repeat the achievements that Team Korea have shown at the previous regattas, and from there Draper stared at Aleph’s ‘derriere’ for much of the race. On the final beat however, the ‘White Tiger’ began closing fast, and as Draper was heard to say over the TV Microphone, ‘we are higher and faster’, so by the final windward gate Aleph were within their sights and Korea were ready to pounce. Chris called for a ‘tack deploy’ and split away from the French who rounded the left hand gate, and Draper looked to have called it right as Korea sailed straight into a decent puff which saw them tear off down the right side track.
Those watching were transfixed as the TV graphics showed the gap closing faster and faster, and suddenly Korea were leading, but still had to tack at least once more to the leeward gate. Pennec saw and gybed back to catch the same gust coming through, and they were literally neck and neck, but Pennec had the better lay-line, and the final gybe that Draper called was perhaps just a moment too early, effectively handing the race to the French Team for what many considered a surprise victory.
Chris said afterwards, ‘’I’m not disappointed with how we sailed, but disappointed that I went for the final early gybe when I should have perhaps gone to the boundary and kept going. It was a tough call to know if we could gybe and try and get the overlap at the final mark, and it didn’t quite work, but they sailed well and full credit to them’’.
Aleph now faced Oracle Coutts skippered by Aussie Darren Bundock, who had previously beaten GreenComm Racing from Spain, and scored victory again, the French on a roll with three straight wins and now came up against Artemis Racing. In a dying and shifting wind with a foggy gloom, Artemis started well shutting out Aleph who earned a penalty for not entering the start box correctly within a minute, but the French came back and overtook, carving out a huge lead and looked set for a sensational result. But then disaster, as the electronic course boundary failed which meant none of the onboard electronic systems would function correctly, and so the Race Committee had to abandon the race - to the understandable astonishment of Aleph. They couldn’t quite repeat the task in the rematch, despite an excellent effort that saw them briefly leading the race approaching the final mark, Artemis Skipper Hutchinson looking on edge, but managing to come back and take the race – underlining once again that ‘it’s never over until it’s over’.
So an enforced day off for Team Korea Friday as the final four contest the semi-final places, the hot match between Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Spithill, while Artemis now challenge Energy from France for a place in the finals in their best of three matches.
Korea are back in action Saturday and Sunday for the closing phase of the San Diego ACWS event.