One of the great lines in Top Gun is delivered by Slider: “Remember boys, no points for second place.” And all the guys leaving the podium at the opening press conference know that now the game gets serious. This is racing for keeps. Talk is cheap – and to be honest it was pretty low-brow stuff on offer from Max, Terry and Ben. Did we learn much? Nothing earth-shattering. But looking at the body language and tone, you can start to get a feel for what’s about to unfold.
Prada look the edgiest by a long way. Pushed on what improvements were coming onstream – and notably the issue of backstays – and you could feel the temperature rising in the room. Doesn’t sound like the ruling is going the Italian’s way at the moment and there’s some wriggling and countering going on behind the scenes. Sirena kept it together but if you’re looking for green shoots of discontent, there you have it. Like a troublesome boy in the playground, the Italians look up for a fight. Authorities I highly trust down in Auckland are punting heavily that Prada is the team to beat in medium and light airs and with the forecast the way it is for the weekend, they could well emerge on top. But can you imagine what they would be like if things go wrong? Expect fireworks.
The coolest cat in the room by a country mile was Terry Hutchinson and not being funny but the New York Yacht Club must be pretty proud of how he handles everything and sets the tone for the team. When the curve-ball was thrown about whether he supported the stated aims of his Club’s officials (which I cannot disagree with more strongly) to put the boats back in the water and ditch the foils, Terry played a straight bat. The mark of Hutchinson’s career in sailing is ‘do your talking on the water’ and that’s very much where he angled his responses. All focus is on performance, marginal gains and consistent improvement but in a logical manner. It could well be the formula for winning not only the Prada Cup but the America’s Cup too. Magic still has my money.
Ben was on good form. Pretty relaxed, perhaps a bit shell-shocked. This has been a tough few weeks but he lucidly praised the efforts from the team and owned the issues. Furthermore, he owned the light wind performance and acknowledged the mountain, or the ladder as he called it, that the team is climbing. All credit to them. They stared into the abyss, found their character and came out slugging. It’s a well trodden path in Ben’s stellar sailing career.
And as is well documented, Ben confirmed that they’ve changed pretty much everything and you can guarantee that the commentators will say the line: “it’s a different boat” at some point over the weekend. I’m on record as saying that they will take scalps. And I reckon day one is when it happens if it’s going to. If it’s 15 knots, Ineos are a dangerous outfit. At 20 knots they’re favourites. And they are positioned now in the classic underdog position which is when Ben is most effective. This could be THE story of the Cup.
And it was lovely to see the interview, once the technology started working, with Patrizio Bertelli beamed in like Emperor Palpatine conducting his forces. He hopes for a competitive sailing event conducted on the water and that’s about right. History says it will be anything but. We shall see.
As Maverick says: “It’s time to buzz the tower.” Time for talking is over. Time for modifications is over. The boats are ready to duke it out.
Over to the sailors now.
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