Hang on New Zealand – we have a genuine contest.
After months of speculation, the 36th America’s Cup Match got under way on Wednesday, with some immediate conclusions to be drawn.
While there is a long way to go, it clearly won’t be like the procession of 2000, when Team New Zealand beat Prada 5-0.
These boats are close – seriously close – defying pundits’ predictions of a significant speed edge to Team New Zealand.
Cup history shows that the defenders will still be hard to beat, and Team New Zealand have more room to improve giving their lack of racing, but it could be tense.
It already feels a bit like 2007 in Valencia, with that classic battle between Team New Zealand and Alinghi; as then, the defender may have a slight edge in boat speed, but the equation will mainly come down to crew work and sailing skills.
Team New Zealand made a confident start on Wednesday, with a near-faultless performance in the first race to bank a win by 31 seconds. They gained the edge off the start and never looked like loosening their grip, though Luna Rossa hung in well.
But the second race was a statement performance from the Italians. They were under serious pressure – given the moderate breeze of 12-13 knots suited them more than their opponents – and had to respond.
They did, in some style, gaining the advantage off the line then covering Te Rehutai superbly, as Peter Burling and his crew threw the kitchen sink at Luna Rossa.
It was a major psychological boost for the Italians, who had also lost both their clashes back in December.
“It was a good sign of strength, to bounce back after that first one,” said Jimmy Spithill post-race. “It was one of those racetracks where the lead boat had an advantage. We were able to stay ahead and pick and choose when we had to tack and gybe and force him to one side. It’s great to be competitive, great to get a race win.”
Burling was mostly upbeat, at the end of a fascinating day.
“It’s no secret we haven’t raced for a little while,” said Burling. “It’s great to get that first win under our belts and I felt like we did a really good job in that pre-start.
“In that second pre-start it was one mistake, and your life is pretty hard for the rest of the race.
“There’s plenty to go home and debrief. We are happy to get one on the board and move on.”
Like the Prada Cup final, the starts were all important on Wednesday.
In the opening contest Burling judged his time on distance perfectly, gaining an early lead as Te Rehutai accelerated off the line. Spithill then gambled on drawing a penalty – which backfired – giving Team New Zealand an advantage of 200 metres which they never looked like giving up.
In the second race Team New Zealand was forced to tack before the start line – after falling behind Luna Rossa – and the Italians had the immediate initiative.
It wasn’t straightforward, as the advantage was only 13 seconds after one lap, but Luna Rossa’s lead gradually built, to more than 400 metres on the fourth leg.
Team New Zealand squeezed them on final upwind beat – halving the deficit by the fifth gate – but it wasn’t quite enough, as they trailed home by seven seconds.
“Definitely looked a little bit rusty in that one but it was good to get back into them on that last beat and really show that we are good downwind,” reflected Burling. “I felt like had there been another lap we might have had a good chance.”
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.
• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.
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