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Prada Wins Opener of Finals

January 26, 2000

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) _ Prada of Italy accidentally bumped AmericaOne a minute before the start, then fought off a late surge by the United States boat in the first race of the America’s Cup challenger finals.

Skipper Francesco de Angelis and his crew won by 24 seconds Wednesday despite having to make a 360-degree turn as a penalty for the collision as the boats were jockeying for position.

He also had to counter maneuvers by AmericaOne helmsman Paul Cayard, who was behind by 28 seconds after the fifth of six legs but virtually even halfway up the final 3 1/2-mile leg with the wind coming from behind the boats.

The second race in the best-of-9 series to determine the finalist against defending champion New Zealand is scheduled for Thursday. The United States held the Cup for 132 consecutive years before losing to Australia in 1983.

The beginning of the challenger final had been delayed 24 hours by heavy winds and rough seas. It finally began with moderate wind of 14 knots that diminished later in the race. But there was another kind of turbulence.

Sailors shouted from the AmericaOne deck when Prada got too close.

The Italians, though, had the last word as they led at the end of all six legs.

For de Angelis, that word was ``victory.″ He is in his first campaign as skipper of an America’s Cup boat and survived four previous rounds that pared the challenger field from 11 boats representing seven nations to two.

For Cayard, it was another disappointing day at sea. He has been the skipper in the last two America’s Cup finals, losing nine of 10 races. He may not get that far this time, although this round is expected to be close.

Wednesday’s race started out well for AmericaOne as the collision gave Cayard an advantage. He knew Prada would have to make the turn, expected to take 30-40 seconds, at a point of its choice.

De Angelis picked the right spot, midway through the 18 1/2-mile race in the Hauraki Gulf. As Prada approached the end of the third leg, it led by about a minute. That’s when the silver-hulled boat decided to serve its penalty.

When the circle was complete, the Italians still led by 25 seconds.

None of AmericaOne’s tactics was enough to catch up as Prada led by 34 seconds after the fourth leg and 28 seconds after the fifth.

The tension and excitement built on the last leg as Cayard made his surge, going to the left side of the course and then heading for the right, hoping to find more wind. But in the last 30 seconds of the race, AmericaOne lost speed.

The collision occurred before the race as Prada approached AmericaOne from behind. Cayard steered his boat sharply to the right and de Angelis was required by the rules to give way.

But it was too late. He couldn’t avoid contact.

Italy is trying to become the fourth nation in 17 years to claim the Cup. The United States had won the first 25 competitions, from 1851 through 1980. In 1983, Australia broke that stranglehold by beating Dennis Conner’s Liberty at Newport, R.I. Conner regained the Cup in Fremantle, Australia, in 1987, and American boats won in 1988 and 1992.

Cayard, a San Franciscan, was skipper of Italian challenger Il Moro di Venezia in its 4-1 loss to America3 in 1992 and of Young America in its 5-0 loss to Black Magic of New Zealand in 1995.

That shifted the Cup venue from San Diego to Auckland. So far, the Italians are enjoying sailing here.

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