AmericaOne Quokka Chronicles:
Prada's Hungry for AmericaOne
by Steve McMorran , Quokka Sports
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Thursday, January 24, 2000 -
Weight of experience and susceptibility to pressure. These factors, more than pure issues of boat speed and performance, have come to be regarded as crucial in determining the outcome of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals.
There are now several common perceptions about finalists Prada and AmericaOne, and of the conduct of the pending battle to find a single challenger for the America's Cup.
Paramount among these are the beliefs that the warring boats, Luna Rossa (ITA-45) and AmericaOne (USA-61), are similar in design and closely matched in performance; that AmericaOne might have an advantage in light winds balanced by Prada's performance in a stronger wind range.
Allied to those beliefs is a wider perception that AmericaOne will bring to the climax of the challenger series a much deeper resource of experience than its Italian opponent. Beyond that, there's a similar belief -- closer to an intuition -- that the Italians, for all the apparent strength of their campaign, for all their funding and their painstaking preparation, are vulnerable to pressure.
AmericaOne has several obvious advantages. More than anything, it has the leadership of Paul Cayard, who draws on a vast and varied store of sailing experience. His personal drive, directness and composure under pressure are proverbial. He has a crew, and particularly a hand-picked afterguard, with temperaments to match his own.
Cayard has been in the last two America's Cup Matches, losing as the challenger in '92 and as the defender in '95. Nevertheless, that experience, the knowledge of the waters into which he is about to sail, is something that can't be easily replicated.
Prada skipper Francesco de Angelis is not seen to share Cayard's breadth of experience, though he has sailed often with his American rival. He has accumulated much of his match-racing experience over the past two years under the tutelage of Rod Davis and, with all the Prada crew, he has shown significant improvement.
De Angelis shows a personal confidence in his own ability and doesn't attach great value to any previous association with Cayard. Asked whether he counted the AmericaOne skipper a friend, he replied: "At this moment he is a competitor."
There has been an abiding impression throughout the challenger series that vulnerability to pressure, an issue of temperament, would be Prada's fatal flaw. That impression has pursued the team, even though it lost only seven of 40 races in four rounds.
"For sure, that's our weakness," said Prada navigator Matteo Plazzi. "We knew that from day one. Over the past two years we have tried to do as much match racing as possible, but they have 10 years of experience in their afterguard. That's important, but we feel sure we can race well against them.
"I think the moment we were under most pressure is already past. That was during the semifinal. We broke a mast and missed two races and at that point, for sure, we had a lot of pressure. Now I think they have as much pressure as we have, maybe a little more because they are the A-team, the team to beat."
Cayard is aware that he holds an important trump card in the experience of his team.
"A high percentage of our people have sailed these big races before," he said.
Plazzi said it was easy to assume AmericaOne's experience would translate to a crew work advantage.
"We are facing a team in AmericaOne which is very strong and has very good sailors," he said. "They have a really good history so the pressure on us is high.
"I think we have a good helmsman in Francesco [de Angelis] who can get the boat to go as fast as anyone, and I think [tactician] Torben [Grael] has a very good talent and can make the right decisions for us."
On those points, Prada bowman Paolo Bassani, a veteran of two Whitbreads but an America's Cup novice, supports Plazzi.
"The AmericaOne crew probably have a bit more experience in the America's Cup and in the final," he said. "We are more young people, young as America's Cup sailors, but we have a lot of energy to spend.
"I think until the semifinal Prada was the team to beat because everyone was talking about our money. For the final AmericaOne will be the team to beat because they beat us the last three races. They have a good boat, but they also have to be careful about pressure."
Plazzi said experience and pressure might be allied, but they're subservient to more practical matters of tactics. Through the challenger series, 87 percent of the boats that led at the first mark won their races. AmericaOne tactician John Kostecki made a huge point during the semifinals of the importance of choosing the right side of the course and the first wind shift.
"I think that's really the issue," Plazzi said. "To be able to start on the side that you want compared to the other boat and to be able to cross ahead at the first cross -- that's really important."
For full story go to: www.americascup.org
For additional information on AmericaOne, contact:
Gina von Esmarch
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