Italians Favored to Win : America's Cup: Series begins today. Many experts say comparative times in trials races are deceiving.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A statistical comparison of the boats Il Moro di Venezia and America 3 in recent races revealed that Bill Koch's crew was 1 minute 32 seconds faster around its race course than the Italians were around theirs.

And yet, in a survey of international experts covering the America's Cup, 22 of 29 picked the Italians to win.

Two cultures, two generations and two styles will clash for the first time today in the opening race of a best-of-seven series in the waters off Point Loma, where through four months of trials confused conditions have been the norm and surprises commonplace.

Will Paul Cayard's 32-year-old vigor and aggression overcome Buddy Melges' 62-year-old seat-of-the-pants savvy?

Will anybody's mast fall down?

And where in the world is Dennis Conner?

Conner, a part of all four America's Cup matches since 1980, wasn't even aboard Stars & Stripes Friday when it returned to sea as America 3's sparring partner for the defender's final tuneups. Eliminated, 7-4, by Koch last week, a subdued Conner already has turned from this event to raising money for the next Cup in 1995.

Also absent is New Zealand, the popular foreign favorite that was ousted, 5-3, by Il Moro under relentless pressure from Cayard.

Most people here believed New Zealand had a faster boat, too. Boats aside, Cayard's drive lifted the Italians from an amusing America's Cup presence into a sailing power.

Cayard was the impetus, and Cayard--in the experts' minds--will be the difference against America 3.

Cayard said: "A lot of the skippers on the challengers' side are used to being on the match-racing circuit. We're used to racing real tight."

Translation: There's some truth to the hired gun tag hung on Cayard of San Francisco and Chris Dickson of New Zealand, who sailed for Japan.

Conceded Koch: "Our weakness is inexperience in match-racing. Our strength is a good boat, good equipment and a good team.

"Probably for the first race we'll be like two boxers in a heavyweight championship who've never fought each other, trying to dance around, trying to probe each other's weaknesses."

But there is another nagging doubt about the stability of the America 3 afterguard--the brain trust in the rear of the boat. Koch said recently that he told tactician Dave Dellenbaugh: "You make the decisions . . . and be decisive."

But in subsequent races Koch, wired for sound, was heard calling the moves himself, apparently consulting no one as Melges stoically steered.

When it's time to tack, Cayard tacks. When it's time to tack, America 3 --who knows? Koch may call a meeting.

In the evolution of the new International America's Cup Class, not only have Il Moro and America 3 built five and four boats, respectively, they have continued to modify the best of the boats they built. Il Moro performed its last major keel modification between the challengers' semifinals and finals, but America 3 did its latest just this week, leaving itself only two days to try it under sail.

Some would think that risky. Koch disagrees.

"Each round robin, we were able to improve our boat because we were pushed to it," he said. "We did not (always) have time to go out and test it on the water, but there was a 98% confidence that all those changes were good because our predictive tools are good . . . and I've got the best seat-of-the-pants sailor convinced that our scientific technology works."

Melges, seated alongside, seemed quietly bemused by everyone taking it all so seriously.

"It's a lot of fun to go up and talk to (designer) Heiner Meldner," Melges said. "I walk away more confused than when I walk in."

America's Cup Course Leg 1: 3.28 miles; this leg requires the boats to beat upwind. Leg 2: 3.28 miles; this is a run downwind. Leg 3: 2.66 miles; this is a shorter leg upwind. Leg 4: 1.60 miles, Leg 5: 2.29 miles, Leg 6: 1.60 miles; these three are reaching legs with the yachts attaining their highest speeds. Leg 7: 2.66 miles; another beat upwind. Leg 8: 2.66 miles; the fina leg downwind is a sprint for the finish.

A Long-Winded History

The America's Cup started in 1851 when the schooner America sailed to England to win a race around the Isle of Wight for the 100 Guinea Cup--a 134-ounce bottomless Victorian silver ewer that was to become the America's Cup. The New York Yacht Club became the controlling defender for the next 132 years, until Alan Bond's Australia II won it in 1983. The San Diego Yacht Club, with Dennis Conner sailing the 12-meter Stars & Stripes, won it in 1987.

America's Cup winners, 1851-1988

YEAR DEFENDER CHALLENGER SCORE 1870 Magic, USA Cambria, England 1-0 1871 Columbia/Sappho, USA Livonia, England 4-1 1876 Madeleine, USA Countess of Dufferin, Can. 2-0 1881 Mischief, USA Atalanta, Canada 2-0 1885 Puritan, USA Genesta, England 2-0 1886 Mayflower, USA Galatea, England 2-0 1887 Volunteer, USA Thistle, Scotland 2-0 1893 Vigilant, USA Valkyrie II, England 3-0 1859 Defender, USA Valkyrie III, England 3-0 1899 Columbia, USA Shamrock I, England 3-0 1901 Columbia, USA Shamrock II, England 3-0 1903 Reliance, USA Shamrock III, England 3-0 1920 Resolute, USA Shamrock IV, England 3-2 1930 Enterprise, USA Shamrock V, England 4-0 1934 Rainbow, USA Endeavour, England 4-2 1937 Ranger, USA Endeavour II, England 4-0 1958 Columbia, USA Sceptre, England 4-0 1962 Weatherly, USA Gretel, Australia 4-1 1964 Constellation, USA Sovereign, England 4-0 1967 Intrepid, USA Dame Pattie, Australia 4-0 1970 Intrepid, USA Gretel II, Australia 4-1 1974 Courageous, USA Southern Cross, Australia 4-0 1977 Courageous, USA Australia, Australia 4-0 1980 Freedom, USA Australia, Australia 4-1 1983 Liberty, USA Australia II, Australia 3-4 1987 Kookaburra III, Aust. Stars & Stripes, USA 0-4 1988 Stars & Stripes, USA New Zealand, NZ 2-0

International America's Cup Class vs. 12-Meters

When the San Diego Yacht Club won the America's Cup at Fremantle, Australia, in 1987 it was questioned whether the heavily built 12-meters would be suitable for the next defense in the light winds off Point Loma. Designers for the Cup's leading interests collaborated in creating the larger, lighter and faster IACC boats. Twenty-eight have been built, with 25 competing in San Diego.

DIMENSION IACC 12-METER Length Over All (LOA) 75 feet 65 feet Length at Water Line (LOW) 57 feet 45 feet Beam 18 feet 12 feet Draft 13 feet 9 feet Mast Height 110 feet 86 feet Sail Area--Main and Jib 3,000 square feet 2,000 square feet Sail Area--Spinnaker 4,500 square feet 2,500 square feet Displacement 37,000 pounds 56,000 pounds

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