Two different America's Cup teams, two different AC75s, two different races, two different sailing styles and two different race winners. This Cup looks set to be very close indeed.
On Wednesday 10th March, after the first day of the America’s Cup racing, we said the racing could be simplified to a case of ‘the boat that won the start, won the race’. It was déjà vu today as we end another contest on the waters of the Hauraki Gulf in Auckland with a win apiece for the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand and Challenger, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.
There is much to love about the America’s Cup and one of its unique qualities is the lack of racing between the Defender and Challenger ahead of the match. This provides ample room to speculate ahead of the event about which team has developed the faster boat.
Two days and four races into the regatta and that question still hangs in the air.
The rumours had Emirates Team New Zealand down as the faster boat, but yesterday showed in the 12-14 knot conditions, neither had a particular advantage.
Today dawned with much lighter winds, sitting around 8-10 knots. Here, the chatter had all been that Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli have a sweet spot in 10 knots and below. But again, today, the racing bore out no particular advantage.
That we have had two days in different wind-strengths, however, does allow us to expand on some of what we learned in Wednesday’s America’s Cup racing and pick up some differences that are becoming a clear theme.
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In all four races so far in this America’s Cup, we have seen a clear advantage to New Zealand on the downwind legs – though not quite enough to overcome any significant lead by their opposition. We have also seen the Kiwis sailing faster in the straight line upwind.
However, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli are clearly able to sail higher upwind and tack their boat faster – or rather lose less ground with each tack.
That these two boats have such different strengths necessarily means they need to be sailed differently. When Emirates Team New Zealand lead, they are much happier to keep a loose cover on their competition allowing themselves to reduce the number of tacks and stretch their legs.
When Luna Rossa are in the lead, they typically want to tack on their opposition and force them into close racing and having to make more manoeuvres.
This was the theme Wednesday in the 12-14 knot winds and it was much of the same today in the 8-10 knot range.
What today did show, was the difference very small margins make in the start. Both starts ended up similarly, with Emirates Team New Zealand starting to leeward for both races.
Early advantage to Luna Rossa in day two of the America’s Cup
In the first start of the day, Luna Rossa had port entry, so were first into the startbox. Emirates Team New Zealand followed them in closely and gybed in front to lead back.
With a little time to kill to the start, Luna Rossa were able to go into a high, slow mode, to gap off to windward and when the start gun fired, both boats crossed the line at a pretty similar time, with Luna Rossa to weather of their competition, with a sizeable gap between the two AC75s.
By the time Emirates Team New Zealand got to the port boundary and tacked onto port, Luna Rossa where able to tack in a strong leebow position and just went into a high mode, squeezing Emirates Team New Zealand, eventually forcing the kiwis to either tack of sail in their dirty air.
The New Zealanders took the former of the two options back to the port boundary and by the time the two teams converged again Luna Rossa were clear ahead and were able to tack straight in front of New Zealand.
From here, Emirates Team New Zealand were forced to keep going back to the port boundary and every time they tacked back over, Luna Rossa would tack on them, forcing them to tack away.
From here, Luna Rossa were never seriously challenged and won the race by a decent margin.
New Zealand take the fourth America’s Cup race win
The second start saw New Zealand first into the startbox and choosing to lead back to the start, while Luna Rossa tacked round and tried to gap off.
New Zealand briefly dropped off their foil and looked vulnerable, so Luna Rossa, sensing blood, started to drive down towards the Kiwi boat, possibly hoping for a hook. But the Kiwis got back up foiling in time to prevent this, leaving the boats crossing the startline in the same same position as in race one, but with the Kiwis tucked up much closer to Luna Rossa.
This smaller gap between the two forced the Italian boat to tack away. For their part, Peter Burling and his Kiwi team then sailed all the way to the port boundary before tacking back.
When the boats finally met again, New Zealand were able to tack dead in from of Luna Rossa, giving them dirty air and forcing them back to the starboard boundary. The Kiwis once again went a long way on starboard tack before coming back to cross clear ahead and simply extended from there, going on to win the race by a decent margin.
Two similar starts, two different leaders at the first cross, and two very different styles of sailing on display. Luna Rossa were always looking to make their competition tack; Emirates Team New Zealand always looking to create some separation and allow their boat to go full pelt.
The coming days look to be similarly light weather with, potentially, some windier conditions after the weekend.
Right now, the match feels not dissimilar to a penalty shootout. Each team has scored their goals when needed. Each team is even.
From what we have seen the entire event could come down to a single mistake. If one team makes the sailing equivalent of hitting the ball wide, by losing two starts in a single day, it might be very hard to come back.
This competition is on a knife edge and though each race might be a case of the leader extending, the regatta as a whole is tense and tight stuff and is exactly what neutral fans might have hoped for.
At the close of play today, one of Luna Rossa’s helmsmen, Jimmy Spithill concluded: “Great racing from both teams today, we’re really looking forward to tomorrow.”
We couldn’t agree more – even if (for those of us in the UK) it means getting up to watch this contest at the crack of dawn.)
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