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SAILING

Alinghi Begins Final With Dominating Win

January 12, 2003|From Times Wire Services

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Alinghi began the America's Cup challenger series final today in familiar territory -- losing at the start, easily winning the race and maintaining its status as the class yacht of the competition.

The Swiss entry of biotechnology heir Ernesto Bertarelli easily defeated San Francisco's Oracle by 1 minute 24 seconds, continuing a trend that has seen it win the first race of each of its quarterfinals and semifinals by more than a minute en route to 4-0 victories in the best-of-seven series.

"We've achieved the first win again, so we can put the pressure back on Oracle," Alinghi tactician Joechen Schuemann said.

"We're feeling really good now, our confidence is there."

This time, Alinghi will have to win five races in the best-of-nine final with Oracle.

It didn't waste any time today after Saturday's first scheduled race was postponed due to high winds.

Despite losing the start by several seconds, which it has done consistently during the series, Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts minimized the disadvantage, took a 47-second lead after the first windward mark and was never threatened thereafter.

Alinghi tacked off the startline toward the right side and profited when the wind shifted 30 degrees to the right.

"We saw the shift coming," Schuemann said. "On our very first opportunity, we decided to tack away. We realized we had an advantage."

Oracle chipped away at Alinghi's lead on the fourth and fifth legs but never looked capable of mounting a real challenge to Alinghi's lead.

Software billionaire Larry Ellison has funded most of his team's $95-million challenge out of his own pocket and appeared glum as he sat in the "17th man" non-sailing position at the stern of his boat.

The win improved Alinghi's record over Oracle to six wins in seven starts, including 4-0 in the semifinals.

Alinghi, which finished first in the round-robin competition involving nine syndicates, has a record of 22 wins and three losses, while Oracle dropped to 20-9.

The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger final will take on Team New Zealand in the Cup final beginning Feb. 15.

The winds that forced postponement of Saturday's racing eased slightly and by race time were about 15 to 18 knots.

They dropped down below 10 knots several times during the race, but built steadily in the latter stages of the six-leg, 18.5-nautical-mile race.

*

America's Cup

Challenger Series finals

at Auckland, New Zealand

Today's result: Alinghi (Switzerland) d. Oracle (United States) by 1:24.

Series: Alinghi leads best-of-nine series, 1-0 (winner to face Team New Zealand in the finals beginning Feb. 15).

Next race: Monday.

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