AUCKLAND: A last-minute strategy switch at the start of yesterday's third America’s Cup race gave Alinghi of Switzerland the edge they needed to beat defending champion Team New Zealand around the course for a third straight time.
The 23-second victory gave Alinghi a 3-0 lead over Team New Zealand and put them just two wins away from becoming the first European team to ever take home the 152-year-old trophy.
Alinghi led the race from start to finish after choosing to begin the six-leg, 18.5 nautical mile course on the right-hand side where a sudden surge of wind sent them 200m ahead of the beleaguered defenders.
Alinghi wind strategist Murray Jones said the team initially planned to fight for the left-hand lane at the start of the race but changed tactics after their weatherman radioed that a wind shift was about to move the advantage to the right.
The news came just a minute before race rules required both boats to cut all communications with support staff and throw radio equipment overboard, Jones said.
“That totally swung our strategy to start on the right and I think that won us the race,” he said.
Team New Zealand and its young skipper Dean Barker meanwhile chose the left-hand side after what he admitted was “a bit of confusion” over the wind conditions that ultimately proved fatal.
“We could have had any start we wanted but we wanted the left,” he said, describing the choice as a “silly mistake”.
It was a record 12th consecutive win in America’s Cup racing for Alinghi helmsman Russell Coutts, who skippered Team New Zealand to historic victories in 1995 and 1999 but then defected to the Swiss in a controversial move that earned him the enmity of his home nation of 3.9 million.
The triple loss put New Zealand’s defense of sport’s oldest trophy in deep peril amid growing doubts both about the usefulness of their boat’s radical new design features and the tactical skills the 29-year-old Barker - Coutts’ former protege.
No team in the 152-year history of the America’s Cup has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit, although this is only the third time the Cup has been run as a best-of-nine series so a comeback cannot be ruled out.
Barker insisted that while his team was in a dire situation, all was not lost.
“I don’t think it’s as bad as a lot of people think,” he said.
“We’re in a very, very tough position now - 3-0 down is not a nice place to be, but we certainly haven’t given up. - AFP