Kiwis edge Spanish; Italians top USA entry
VALENCIA, Spain -- Emirates Team New Zealand and Italian boat Luna Rossa won their opening Louis Vuitton Cup semifinal races Monday.
The Kiwis, who finished on top of the round-robin standings, beat Desafio Espanol of Spain by 43 seconds, while Luna Rossa beat American entry BMW Oracle Racing by 2:19.
The two winners of the best-of-nine match-racing series will meet in the June 1-11 Louis Vuitton Cup final to decide which boat will race defending champion Alinghi in the America's Cup from June 23-July 4.
Luna Rossa chose to come into the pre-start from the right after winning the coin toss.
Along with BMW Oracle Racing, the yachts came off the line even before putting their bows down in a split, with Luna Rossa's American helmsman James Spithill preferring the left side of the middle.
Spithill edged his ITA-94 yacht back toward the American USA-98 boat near the top of the first lap for a 52-second advantage around the first marker.
BMW Oracle Racing skipper Chris Dickson didn't immediately follow Spithill into a gybe and caught a pocket of wind to reduce the lead to 100 meters before eventually gybing back to starboard to pull slightly ahead.
Luna Rossa moved back toward the American boat before both followed the breeze to the left as the Americans cut Luna Rossa's lead to seven seconds.
Luna Rossa tactician Torben Grael correctly sent the Italians out to the left on the third lap as they pushed the lead to 1:21, before Spithill gybed to starboard and maintained the overlap for the 2000 Louis Vuitton Cup champions over the final leg.
Emirates Team New Zealand also entered the start on starboard and held its position as both boats crossed the line at pace with the Kiwis holding a slight edge.
Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Dean Barker rolled into a port tack as he tried to take advantage of the sea breeze while the Spanish stayed split before deciding to tack and keep their opponents from getting away.
Desafio Espanol helmsman Karol Jablonski preferred the left side of the course and tacked back as Emirates Team New Zealand opened up a 200-meter lead, translating into a 1:03 gap around the first windmarker.
Jablonski guided his ESP-97 yacht straight into a gybe after rounding the marker, cutting the lead in half by the quarter mark of the second lap.
The gap was pressed to 41 seconds around the second marker as the Spanish -- who had King Juan Carlos of Spain aboard as the 18th-man guest -- stayed on the heels of the Kiwis, eventually closing the deficit to 30 seconds in the final downwind leg.
The sea breeze finally arrived halfway from the line and boats suddenly found themselves sailing upwind. The Kiwis dropped their spinnaker immediately while the Spanish left theirs up longer hoping for a late surge.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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