When Chris Draper and Nathan Outteridge bring Luna Rossa and Artemis Racing into the start box for Race 1 of the Louis Vuitton Cup Semifinals, it’ll be a case of two friends entering into a new rivalry.
Draper, 35, is seven years older than Outteridge, but the two know each other well from their days in the 49er Class, the high-performance skiff dinghy of the Olympics. When Draper won his second 49er World Championship in 2006, Outteridge placed sixth. But beginning in 2007, the Aussie finished in the top three for six consecutive world championships, an amazing run of consistency.
In some ways, that 2006 world championship was a passing of the torch. Draper’s gold medal completed a run of five consecutive worlds where he medaled. The next year Outteridge would finish with a bronze medal, which began a run of six consecutive years where he medaled.
Outteridge’s six world championship medals are the most in the class, and rank one ahead of Draper’s five. Each has also won an Olympic medal in the 49er – Draper a bronze in 2004 and Outteridge gold last year.
“I remember Nathan as being very spry that first year,” said Draper. “Everyone thought he’d be good. He’s a very keen sailor, loves it more than anything. I don’t think he hesitates very much, which is a good thing.”
Outteridge had similar words of respect, “Chris and I sailed a few years against each other in the 49er. He’s a good sailor. He was always very consistent in the 49er. He always got the boat around the track, was always there to the last race.”
Just what is it about the 49er that lends itself so readily to the new America’s Cup wing sail catamarans?
“The 49er is so much about staying on top of tactics while dealing the intricacies of sailing the boat, and that’s a lot of what this America’s Cup is about,” said Draper. “With the AC72 you have to push as hard as you can push. That’s not different from any other boat, but you also have to think a long way ahead. It’s tricky getting the right angles into the leeward gate when you’re coming in at 40 knots, have to jibe and round up quickly… it’s all very tricky.”
The difference in the semifinals is that the format is match racing, not fleet racing. Two boats, mano-a-mano. Neither Draper nor Outteridge have a great deal of experience match racing, but each has a tactician – Francesco Bruni for Draper and Iain Percy for Outteridge – who has plenty of experience. Bruni in 2011 was the No. 1-ranked match racer in the world, and Percy sailed as tactician for Italy’s +39 Challenge in the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup.
“Iain’s a great match racer. He’s making the tactical decisions on the boat,” said Outteridge. “We’ve done a lot of training in the 45s and foiling 45s. I have an understanding of the set plays. The goal for Chris and me is to get a clean start and be within a boatlength. Whoever leads at Mark 1 doesn’t necessarily win. A lot of the race happens after Mark 1.”
In regards to race training, Luna Rossa has a considerable edge. The Italian team has spent upwards of 80 days on the water, racing and practicing. Artemis Racing has spent most of the past two months shoreside rebuilding “Big Blue” and will have had eight days of practice come Tuesday, provided the team gets out both days this weekend.
“I’m sure there’ll be plenty of aggression, it’s a match race and we’d like to hope the boats won’t be too close (in terms of relative speed), but I think they probably will be,” said Draper. “It’ll come down to who races best. That’s what we’ve spent the past two years working towards, and we’re looking forward to putting it all together in the next few weeks.”
“The AC72 is easy to sail upwind, but hard boat to sail fast. Downwind it’s a hard boat to sail, and a harder boat to sail fast,” said Outteridge. “In training we’ve tried to take on the harder things earlier. Our progression was slow, but we think we’re learning the right way. We’ve done lots of research watching what the other teams do. We know what we need to do on board, executing it is the problem.”