Kiwis win a spectacular opening race in the 34th Americas Cup
Protests, lead changes and the most exciting action we have seen in the new age America’s Cup was delivered in perfect conditions as Oracle Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand traded places at high speed around the course.
If today’s exhilarating racing was a sign of what is to come for the rest of the week, the event could just have taken its first tentative steps to recovery after a long and sometimes painful illness.
Here’s what happened.
As Dean Barker put the bow down with just 10 secs to go at the start his timing had to be spot on if he and his team were going to roll over the top of Oracle Racing in the drag race to the first mark. And that’s precisely what they did, spot on as the gun went with Oracle a second or two behind.
With their nose ahead the Kiwis managed to take the advantage at the first mark rounding ahead of Oracle by just 4 seconds, Spithill spinning his boat up aggressively across Barker’s stern as he tried to get out of the dirty air quickly.
After the first mark the Kiwis performed a perfect first gybe, considered to be the most crucial of the race. Their timing was spot on and they managed to hold their advantage all the way down the downwind leg despite the breeze throwing a few curved balls at each team. By the bottom mark with Oracle still just 4 seconds behind, Barker and co seemed to trip up, spinning the boat into the breeze as if pinching to stay high. The result was that they slowed down and allowed Spithill to come into them from behind, protesting the Kiwis as windward boat as he did. The Kiwis tacked away cleanly, just, but slowly. The 4 second gap had now disappeared and the race was back on as the Umpires declared no foul.
Up the beat Oracle managed to cross ahead as Barker, coming out on port tack, chose to dip Oracle. A first for this Cup, a lead change. But when the two boats came back it was Oracle that had to do the duck, the Kiwis were back in the lead and from here they played a cool covering game. At one point in the tacking duel, Barker managed to slam dunk Spithill, tacking onto his face and breeze, forcing the Cup holders to lose more time tacking clear.
From there on the Kiwis continued to keep it cool and extended their lead at the weather mark to 25 seconds. On the downwind leg the distance only got bigger to see Emirates Team New Zealand take the win of the first race by 36 seconds.
No one had dared to expect such a breathtaking race but aside from the raw speed and close quarters action, the most impressive feature of this race was the way that the Kiwis handled themselves and recovering their lead.
Could the Kiwis take a second win today?
In the break between race 1 and the start of race 2 it appeared that Oracle had a problem with their wing as the shore crew stepped aboard and started pointing skywards. A loss and some damage, a tense nervy start to the America’s Cup for Oracle.
Oracle were first into the box, entering on port, but were late allowing the Kiwis to get closer to them than they might have planned. Both boats were pressed up close to the start line and had to kill time, the Kiwis up to weather once again and Oracle to leeward.
Seconds before the start Barker did a dive to leeward to protect his position but this placed them close to Oracle. Spithill saw his opportunity and tried to get a hook to leeward on the Kiwis, luffing up and claiming a penalty against Barker. But the umpires didn’t see it the same way and green flagged the incident. The Kiwis were off the hook, a nose ahead and in great shape to lead to the first mark.
Once around and head by 2 seconds Barker and co kept cool and took their time before gybing while Spithill took the early gybe and headed back out into the Bay.
From there the Kiwis protected their position by matching Oracle’s gybes to round the leeward mark ahead by 7 seconds.
Upwind it was more of the same with little opportunity for Oracle to come back into the race, especially as Oracle looked consistently slower by around a knot for much of the race.
By the finish the Kiwis had stretched their lead to an impressive 52 seconds as they came blasting across the line.
“For us it couldn’t have been a better start,” said Barker after the race. “As we’ve been saying for some time we had no idea how things would line up and today it’s clear that there’s nothing in it, both boats are very even.”
So did Oracle lose on boat speed or tactics?
“I don’t think we could say we lost on boat speed,” said tactician John Kostecki.
WHAT DO WE KNOW?
So, with the Kiwis 2:0 up after day one, what can we take from today’s racing?
The boats are not as closely matched as the teams like to suggest , although the action is as close as any had dared to hope for. According to the stats, the Kiwis had a speed edge in both races and as the Cup experts say, the fastest boat always wins the America’s Cup.
Oracle look a little rattled, with aggressive moves and three protests across the two races. In contrast the Kiwis looked calm and confident and demonstrated in the first race how they could come back. The ability to recover is crucial in any race but in the new Cup racing where there are precious few passing lanes, especially up the beat, this is particularly impressive.
When it comes to the boats themselves, Oracle suffered some wing damage after race one, a hint perhaps at a less reliable machine?
The result now means that the Kiwis now need to win 7, the Americans need to win 11 races.
Current Score: NZL 2
Americas Cup Race 1 NZL USA
Distance Sailed (km) 21.794 21.229
Average Speed (kts) 30.07 28.58
Max Speed (kts) 43.54 42.51
Winning margin 36sec
Americas Cup Race 2 NZL USA
Distance Sailed (km) 21.087 21.000
Average Speed (kts) 30.12 28.92
Max Speed (kts) 46.00 42.87
Winning margin 52sec