Sailing: Walker urges Britain to raise their game

More pressure, more risks to be taken, and more at stake, the second round-robin of the Louis Vuitton Cup makes its delayed start tomorrow with the British team in good heart, the two leading teams almost oozing self-confidence, and two of the three American teams regrouping.

The Prada team have worked 24 hours a day for five days to improve a sequence of three wins from seven outings, while the Swedish team had been able to make a decision to make a change and sail its new boat, but cannot announce a decision about who will sail it. Each team play the paranoia game, tries to mislead their opponents, and refuses to disclose to the public what all their opponents know about their activities.

GBR Challenge's general manager, David Barnes, described the alterations to their yacht before the second round of the Louis Vuitton Cup this week as "small, but adding up to a significant improvement". The British camp have been playing down their changes and their skipper, Ian Walker, talks of "weighing up risks against potential benefits". Barnes says openly they have been trying to learn as much as possible from the way their opponents do things and they, as well as others, have had people working round the clock. Even so, they have had only two days to test the effect of those changes, though changes there have to be.

"If we don't improve, we're not going to win," said Walker, who said he was not surprised at the pecking order that had emerged from round-robin one and expected to see a similar situation at the end of round-robin two.

The Italian winners of the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2000, Prada, have put a whole restyled bow section on to their silver and red Luna Rossa, the sort of knuckle shape developed for Team New Zealand's Black Magic, who beat them 5-0 in the last America's Cup showdown, and have borrowed some of the mast technology from the same boat to improve the area of the headsails.

One of their biggest rivals for the sole right to challenge his old team, Russell Coutts, had already made a similar development. Of the nine challengers going into a round which sees that number cut to eight and one team going home, the skipper of Switzerland's Alinghi is staying cool about the performance of his yacht.

Coutts has made one or two long-planned changes to SUI 64, which the team will continue to use, and would be glad to have Murray Jones back from injury.

In most trouble are the French who, immediately after losing their eighth race out of eight, called in every member of the team, plus wives, girlfriends and children, to say that this was a time to rally round, to support each other, keep heads up and know that they could still win races. Since then they have played with a winged rudder before abandoning the move because there was too little time to test it.

In any case, they have the makings of a fast boat already if they can just find a way to sail smarter tactics and as a team, rather then 16 individuals. They could still upset some who have been lulled into thinking they are easy prey.

In the relegation zone with them, Mascalzone Latino have made a few changes, most notably to move the optimum performance of their single yacht up to medium-strength breezes and they kick off the new round of racing today by completing their outstanding first-round fixture against Prada. Any upset there and the princes from Milan will be sent into a tailspin by the rascals of Naples.

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