With the AC World Series in Naples just finished and the next race in Venice starting in a month, this period gives a good possibility to take a breath and reflect on what happened during the past week.
AC fans gathered to greet their heroes - Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget
Quite simply, the AC World Series hit a new level in Naples. On and off the water.
On the water, the racing was phenomenal. There were nine crews competing, the same as in the first three events, but the addition of the two Luna Rossa crews raised the competitive bar considerably. Clearly, Chris Draper and his Luna Rossa Piranha team, despite protestations to the contrary, arrived in Naples ready to challenge the series leaders. With a win in the Fleet Racing Championship and a second place finish behind Artemis Racing in the Match Racing, the new Italian team served notice there’s another crew to be reckoned with at the top.
“We thought before the event if we gave ourselves the opportunities, we could go well,” Draper said. “But we honestly didn’t have huge expectations, so to come away with a first and a second is awesome… The AC World Series is a really useful stepping stone for us, we see it as something very useful and we look forward to taking these lessons into the AC72.”
It was a win in the high-scoring final race on Sunday that assured Draper of the overall victory, but he didn’t come out of nowhere to steal the championship. Piranha entered the final race sitting in third place, with a string of solid finishes in the first six races. Dean Barker’s Emirates Team New Zealand started Sunday with a solid, but not insurmountable lead, built off four wins in the first six races. But a seventh place in race five left the Kiwis vulnerable and after getting locked out at the starting line in the final race, and pushed back into the second row, the Kiwis could only watch as their hard work over the week came to naught.
Draper was denied ‘the double’ as ORACLE Racing’s Jimmy Spithill calls the feat of winning the Match and Fleet Racing, by Terry Hutchinson’s Artemis Racing, who finished the week tremendously, after starting it horrifically. First, the start. In strong conditions on the first day of racing, Artemis capsized and severely damaged their wing sail. Hutchinson, understandably, was distraught when he came ashore, but determined to be ready for racing the next day.
Following an all night session by the Artemis shore crew, the team was ready to go again the next day, but scoring no points on the first day put the team at the bottom of the seedings for the match racing, No matter. Artemis dispatched China Team on Thursday, before knocking off Emirates Team New Zealand on Friday to advance to the semi final. A win over the Swordfish team put Hutchinson into the Match Racing Final, where he dispatched the second Luna Rossa crew. Four consecutive sudden-death match wins made Artemis Racing an undisputedly worthy Match Racing Champion.
“We faced four really formidable teams all the way through this,” Hutchinson said after securing the title, making special note of an improving China Team, his first victim. “On Wednesday (after that capsize) if you you had told me that we’d be standing here having won the match racing part of the regatta, we would have taken it. I think I probably hate losing a lot more than I like winning, so it’s nice to be smiling on Sunday.”
This was the best Match Racing finish for Hutchinson and his team, who had been steady, if unspectacular, in scoring 3-3-4 over the previous three AC World Series events. That has changed. The win, combined with poor results by ORACLE Racing Spithill (7th) and Emirates Team New Zealand (who Artemis defeated to knock into 8th place) vaults the Swedish team to the top of the overall Match Racing leaderboard.
If the competition on the water was at an all-time high, off the water, Naples was a mind-blowing experience. The crowds were like nothing previously seen at an AC World Series event (or indeed, other sailing events). Organizers estimated crowds of over 500,000 through the Race Village over the course of the event (and more than double that along the extended waterfront), including a massive turnout on the holiday Easter Monday and again on the final Sunday. Despite the rain, the huge interest meant the sailors were living the full rock-star experience, mobbed anytime they walked through the Race Village wearing team gear.
ORACLE Racing skipper Jimmy Spithill, popular in Italy after a previous stint with Luna Rossa summed it up well: “It’s just incredible, the people are so into their sport and their sailing teams. I can’t wait for Venice, I think it’s going to be fantastic.”
Venice is the penultimate event of the 2011-12 AC World Series and on the overall Series leaderboard, which combines results in the Fleet and Match Racing Championships from each event, ORACLE Racing Spithill has now overhauled the Kiwis to lead by just one point, with Artemis Racing closing in from third place. Behind, just one point separates Energy Team, Team Korea and ORACLE Racing Bundock.
It will be the same talented nine crews from Naples racing in Venice. Green Comm Racing, who had previously advised organisers it would not sail in Naples, has now withdrawn its challenge for the 34th America’s Cup and will not participate again in the America’s Cup World Series.
2011-12 America’s Cup World Series Championship – Leaderboard
1 ORACLE Racing – Spithill…67 points
2 Emirates Team New Zealand…66
3 Artemis Racing…54
4 Energy Team…48
5 ORACLE Racing – Bundock…47
5 Team Korea…47
7 China Team…26
8 Luna Rossa – Piranha…19
9 Luna Rossa – Swordfish…12