In an exciting day of America's Cup racing in Bermuda, Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand to march off with a point to take into the Cup match
Some of the most exciting racing in the America’s Cup so far saw Oracle Team USA seize two wins and storm away from the qualifier series with a one-point advantage for the Match.
“We’ve won a race of the Cup,” crowed tactician Tom Slingsby to his team mates after beating Emirates Team New Zealand in today’s giant-slaying contest.
The big showdown between Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand was viewed by many as being Cup race #1 as this is the likeliest pairing for the match. No doubt Oracle has to work hard for it, but their record is now conclusive and they leave the qualifying series – from which, in the past, the defender was barred – with both a real advantage and a considerable psychological one.
So everything is going splendidly to plan so far for Oracle then…
From an entertainment and audience perspective – the locus of Russell Coutts’s masterplan – this was a corker of a race. Oracle may have won it, but the eventual separation of 29 seconds is no reflection of just how exciting this match actually was. There were lead changes, penalties, and more scary crosses, a close one on the first upwind leg at a speed of some 62 knots.
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Already we are used to seeing ETNZ’s Peter Burling in seemingly total control, sitting with his hands lightly on the wheel and his face implacable, as if he were out for no more than a jaunt. Now also familiar is the way he hurtles the boat through tacks and gybes at centrifugal force.
Burling keeps saying in the post-race press conferences (very colourless and bland) that his team is continuing to learn with every race. Easy words, sure, but this does appear quite literally true, and despite coming out of this stage in front, Oracle Team USA needn’t feel too smug.
Another exciting race followed between SoftBank Team Japan and LandRover BAR, which the British team won by a small margin. LandRover BAR seemed slower on the upwind legs, but they got ahead after gybing inside them at the weather gate.
Something to cheer supporters is that despite rather light winds of 9 knots, LandRover BAR’s foiling performance was streets better than it was on sticky Thursday. Ainslie’s team had day off from racing yesterday. CEO Martin Whitmarsh said they’d worked hard on improvements and that seemed to have paid off, as LandRover BAR were foiling through most tacks and gybes.
Goodbye to Groupama Team France
Sadly, there’s not that much to be said about the race between Artemis and Groupama Team France. Franck Cammas made a poor start, boxed in by his rivals, and it was all downhill from here in one of the most one-sided races to date. The French struggled to foil at times in the light winds (unlike the Swedish team) and had in any case already been eliminated from the next round.
Cammas said he hoped to be back in two years’ time (provided Oracle Team USA win, of course, or a challenger that is not New Zealand, as the Kiwis have not signed up to the new framework arrangement). For starters, secondary tier sponsors Norauto has renewed its backing.
Finally, Oracle Team USA v LandRover BAR was another good race, though the defenders never really looked under dire threat. Unusually, Ben Ainslie made a poor start, so was trailing from the outset, and the team did not manage to poach back a lead.
However, it was close at times and a very positive take away for the British team was that they were able to match Oracle Team USA upwind and downwind, were stable on foils through tacks and gybes and carried out consistently excellent manoeuvres.
So after a week of ups and downs, especially for British fans, the scene is set: Emirates Team New Zealand are top dogs of the challengers, at this stage by a long way. They will now take on LandRover BAR in the semi finals, while Artemis Racing plays SoftBank Team Japan.