Peter Lester: Tempting to hope for walkover, but it's testing Barker and co really need


After a long, farcical challenger series, we are mercifully finally getting down to the nitty gritty in the Louis Vuitton Cup.

While it is tempting to hope for a Team New Zealand walkover, in reality the best thing for Dean Barker and his crew at this point is to get in some close, competitive races. It is vitally important to their chances of taking out the America's Cup that the Louis Vuitton finals are more competitive than what we saw in the round robin.

Fortunately, Luna Rossa appeared to step things up in the semifinals against Artemis - both mechanically and with their crew-work. The Italians have made some subtle modifications to their boat, including putting new foil tips in, while they've cut back on those ugly boat-handling mistakes they were making in the early rounds.

The crew now look much more comfortable sailing the boat, and over the course of the semifinals Luna Rossa's percentage of foiling gybes improved significantly.

But the Italians themselves recognise they are underdogs against Team NZ, who have set the benchmark during the campaign. Since first lining up in the final of the 2000 America's Cup in Auckland, Luna Rossa have never taken a point off Team NZ.

As skipper Max Sirena noted in yesterday's press conference - simply winning a point will be a big step forward for the team.

While the Italians have made gains, Team NZ have also moved their boat along over the past couple of weeks and it will be interesting to see if they show their full hand during the Louis Vuitton finals, or if they hold a little bit back for a Cup match-up.

I had the privilege of going out on the water with the team last week and it is exciting where they are taking things with this boat.

In the past at this point in the campaign you'd see teams take the throttle off and focus on making sure the boat is reliable rather than pushing for more performance. But this time around the gains to be made are so significant - we're talking taking quantum leaps forward - that we'll be seeing teams continue to roll out new stuff on their boat right up to next month's big showdown. That one last push could be the game-changer.

Of course Oracle Team USA aren't sitting still either. They had their boat back in the shed for three to four days last week and have emerged with a new aerodynamic package that incorporates the forward section of the boat and the bowsprit, a step forward again in reducing drag.

It will be interesting to see if Team NZ now follow suit - I think they have to. The smallest of tweaks to their aerodynamic and hydrodynamic systems could find the breakthrough.

While all this is going on Oracle are also dealing with an investigation into their operations after they were found to have cheated during the AC45 regattas. The international jury are now trying to get to the bottom of how deep this thing goes and the fallout could be serious. Much more is to come of this in the next couple of weeks, but meanwhile I think there needs to be an independent review on the AC72 measurement procedure.

The measurement committee is under pressure and I think it would be worth getting an independent body in to audit its work, and make sure it has considered different options. I'm not questioning the committee's integrity by any stretch, but sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes.

Given Oracle have been caught out on the 45s, public confidence needs to be restored that they're not hiding anything on their big boat.

- NZ Herald

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