Everyone recalls the surprising defeat of BMW Oracle in its match against China Team during the second qualifying round of the 32nd America Cup. This unexpected result put BMW Oracle down to being on equal points with two other favourites: the Italian Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand. Given the current America’s Cup turmoil, it seems interesting to dwell on the reasons for the surprising victory of a weaker and less prepared Chinese team against the American giant.
China Team’s tactician, Sebastien Destremau - pictured here with Pierre Mas on the China Team helm - speculates on how the defeat of BMW Oracle, by the lowliest team in AC 32, might have led to events that followed Alinghi’s win.
A few days prior to this famous match, the Chinese boat suffered minor damage, during one of the team’s all too rare training sessions, when the genoa inexplicably pulled off the headfoil several times, although nothing major had been changed on board?
Confused and looking for an answer, the engineers discovered that the headfoil had been mounted too close to the deck and by moving it up by about 10 cms, solved the problem! On a boat as powerful as an America's Cup yacht, an abnormal effort can have very serious consequences.
All odds made BMW Oracle favourites, however, the management decided to use the China Team match to give a break to the A-Team and, at the same time, reward the B-Team's long service as sparring partner with a real bout in the ring. The Danish Skipper Sten Mohr helped by the French tactician Bertrand Pace took charge of the American battle ship.
During the pre-start of the infamous race, the Chinese noticed that BMW Oracle had apparently made the same mistake; its super-high-tech-carbon-fibre-extremely-expensive headfoil was mounted really low and China Team immediately realised that gear failure was a strong possibility, should BMW Oracle fell into a trap.
They decided to give it a go and, given that the wind was very strong, started to throw one tack after the other to get out of the American’s early grip. BMW Oracle’s team, so confident in its superiority and, perhaps, wanting to crush the small Chinese team, showed surprising aggressiveness against the last ranked competitor.
Some of the Chinese crew members were wondering if it was worth the effort and the sight of the American boat was amazing. It looked like the team was responding effortlessly to anything that the Chinese were throwing at it. With magnificent sails displayed and great crew work, the US rocket machine was pedal-to-the-metal and pulling away quickly; it looked absolutely superb, until disaster struck!
After the seventh tack, when BMW Oracle had already built a comfortable lead, the genoa pulled out of the head stay foil, damaging the carbon fibre track in the process. The sail was swept away by the wind despite the crew's efforts to recover it. The Chinese trap had worked to perfection and the boat raced to a well deserved and long awaited victory. Injured and flying on one wing only, the American eagle finished this race over 3 minutes behind Team China. David had beaten Goliath; a surprising outcome that resulted in delirious celebrations over the one and only win of the regatta for Team China.
48 hours later, the American staff contacted the Chinese base to ask if they had a spare TuffLuff, as they had lost total confidence in theirs! At first the Chinese thought that was a joke, but after conducting further verification and out of genuinely fair play, they immediately invited BMW Oracle to verify whether or not their only spare head foil could do the trick. After checking the length, the Americans refused the offer because the TuffLuff was considered to be too short (20cm!).
On paper BMW Oracle should never have lost that day; it was the worst result ever recorded by an American team in the America’s Cup. That leads me to ask whether it triggered:
An enormous sense of frustration within the BMW Oracle management;
The beginning of a downward spiral that culminated in the filing of a 'hostile challenge' for the 33rd America’s Cup;
The still ongoing action in the New York Supreme Court.
Today this legal battle threatens thousands of jobs in the America's Cup world as well as the short term viability of this global event.