Five ways Oracle can beat Luna Rossa
The remaining four crews in the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals now know they are in a major battle.
All four boats have at least one victory. The big surprise after three races is that Italy's Luna Rossa is leading BMW Oracle Racing of the United States. Friday's scheduled fourth race will be a crucial test for Larry Ellison's Oracle crew. If it wins the score is even at 2 in the best-of-nine series. But a loss will create a 3-1 deficit that will be difficult to overcome.
Last week, Oracle had a similar test against Emirates Team New Zealand and lost. Thursday's lay day will give the American crew time to reassess what it needs to do to regain its momentum.
Historically, the fastest boat wins the America's Cup, but the racing in Valencia, Spain, is different. While the boats are faster than any previous America's Cup yacht in the 156-year history of the event, the courses are only 12.6 miles in length. Also, fickle winds off Valencia seem to shift frequently, making it a difficult task to decide where to sail on the race course.
The classic tactic in match racing is to cover, when ahead, by staying in between your opponent and the next turning mark. It seems every time a leading boat tries to play the wind and depart from the covering tactic, the wind shifts and the leader loses distance. There is luck involved, but determination will have a big effect on the outcome of the next set of races.
Here are five things Oracle needs to do to turn things around:
1. Philosophically, this crew seems like a group that is overly worried about the final outcome of the regatta. This attitude always makes a team nervous. The solution: Sail by the numbers and take each race one step at a time.
2. Skipper Chris Dickson is struggling to get an advantage at the starting line against Luna Rossa's red-hot helmsman, James Spithill of Australia. Dickson might consider handing the wheel over to tactician Gavin Brady for the next start. Sometimes, a substitution will bring a new approach and possibly catch Spithill off guard.
3. The Italians seem to have trouble maneuvering downwind. Oracle is clearly the faster boat on the run. Dickson needs to keep the Italians maneuvering at all times on the downwind legs.
4. If there are any speed ingredients available, such as a faster shaped sail or different style of rig tuning, now is the time to roll it out. America's Cup crews prefer to hold back their best stuff, but BMW Oracle cannot afford to lose the next race.
5. Tactically, Oracle should never split more than a minute away from Luna Rossa. Historically, in tight quarter situations, Dickson excels.
It will be interesting to see if the most expensive America's Cup effort can turn things around.
Gary Jobson is a sailing analyst for ESPN. He is a former collegiate sailor and was a tactician for the 1977 America's Cup-winning yacht Courageous.
In addition to ESPN, Jobson has covered the America's Cup for ABC's Good Morning America, Nightline and Wide World of Sports. He served as a commentator for TBS' coverage of yachting at the Goodwill Games from Moscow in 1986 and Seattle in 1990. He covered yachting at the 1988 and 2000 Olympics for NBC Sports, winning an Emmy Award for the 1988 Games in South Korea.
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