Even before the Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice Côte d'Azur began, Azzurra skipper Francesco Bruni spoke of his passion and honour to be leading an iconic sailing brand back into the fray after a long absence. This afternoon he could barely describe his joy.
Bruni and his Azzurra crew, including tactician Tommaso Chieffi, defeated Emirates Team New Zealand 2-0 in the Grand Final to win this match race regatta.
Azzurra, from the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, made its international sailing debut at the 1983 Louis Vuitton Cup but has been in hiatus since the 1987 event off Western Australia. The team was re-launched last month and today Azzurra won the first race by 25 seconds and the second by 17 for a well-deserved championship.
“It's an amazing sensation. I can't find the words to describe it,” said Bruni, the 40-year-old skipper from Sicily. “We knew we could do a good job. We had very good training before the event. But we never thought about beating New Zealand in the final.”
Emirates Team New Zealand entered the final as the favourite. It won the round robin, suffering just one loss in 10 starts, and then defeated the upstart Synergy Russia Sailing Team in a hard-fought semi final match.
Team New Zealand has won many regattas this year, including the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in February and the TP52 World Championship in September. Today, however, the Kiwis lost the first cross in both races and could never find a way around the Italians on the short courses of less than 5 nautical miles.
“I think we sailed well today but Azzurra was clearly better than us. They did everything right,” said Dean Barker, skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand. “Sometimes that's just the way it is. You're either in the right place or you're not. Today Azzurra sailed very, very well.”
The two races were sailed early in the morning as the race committee was intent on deciding the regatta on the water and not on countback, which might've happened if racing couldn't be conducted. The best winds of this two-week event were often early in the morning, and today the first warning signal was sounded at 0800 CET, one hour earlier than scheduled.
The northwesterly wind blew between 6 and 10 knots for the two races and was very shifty and patchy. Pressure differences often accounted for different sailing angles as 1 or 2 knots more wind can lift a yacht as much as 10 degrees higher than its opponent.
Chieffi, who won the 1992 Louis Vuitton Cup as tactician of Il Moro di Venezia, thought the Kiwis' success played against them in the final.
“Beating TeamOrigin yesterday was a big plus for us; we'd done our share of work,” said Chieffi. “So we came in with smiley faces today despite the early morning. I could sense the Kiwis were more tense because they were the favourite; they were leading throughout the regatta. This played a role in our favour.”
The winning crew included skipper Bruni and tactician Chieffi, Tom Burnham (strategist), Bruno Zirilli (navigator), Daniele De Luca (mainsail trimmer), Stefano Rizzi (jib trimmer), Pierluigi De Felice (spinnaker trimmer), Gabriele Bruni (trimmer), Piero Romero (runner grinder), Nicola Pilastro (mainsail grinder), Massimo Galli (port grinder), Francesco Scalici (starboard grinder), Cristian Griggio (pitman), Luca Albarelli (mastman), Pietro Mantovani (mid-bow), Matteo Auguadro (bowman) and Michele Cannoni (pit assist).
Despite the win, Azzurra had its mishaps on the racecourse. The skipper and tactician both described three problems in the two races. In Race 1 a helicopter got too low to the water and disrupted the wind flow, reducing a four-boatlength lead to one.
In the second race the crew didn't judge a bias in the leeward gate. They made a starboard rounding, but the mark was farther downwind and again they gave away three boatlengths.
The biggest mishap came at the top of the second beat in the second race. Approaching the windward mark on starboard tack with Team New Zealand two or three lengths behind, Mantovani, the mid-bowman, slipped overboard while preparing the spinnaker for the rounding. As the yacht sailed past the aft grinder, Romero, ran into the scoop and grabbed him out of the water “like a fish,” according to Bruni.
Chieffi said: “Even with the mishaps, the crew did a solid job to not lose concentration. Yes, we had five-boatlength leads, but one length is enough. The crew did an outstanding job keeping it calm, steady and tidy. We're very pleased with the result.”
Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice Cote d'Azur Final Standings
Team (Country) Skipper (Nationality) Won-Lost
1. Azzurra (ITA) Francesco Bruni (ITA), 11-5
2. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Dean Barker (NZL), 11-4
3. Synergy Russia Sailing Team (RUS) Karol Jablonski (POL), 8-6
4. TeamOrigin (GBR) Ben Ainslie (GBR), 9-6
5. All4One (FRA/GER) Jochen Schumann (GER), 5-8
6. BMW Oracle Racing (USA) Hamish Pepper (NZL), 5-8
7. Artemis (SWE) Paul Cayard (USA), 5-7
8. TFS – PagesJaunes (FRA) Bertrand Pacé (FRA), 1-11
(Note: Won-lost records do not reflect penalties assessed by on-water umpires or the International Jury.)