The sort of racing fans want to see delivered a tight contest for the sixth day of the America's Cup, which sees New Zealand just one race win away from a successful defence

It was a shifty, patchy day out in Auckland for a thrilling Day 6 of America’s Cup racing, which saw the closest race we have seen in recent weeks in this regatta.

The wind started out at 14 knots, but it was patchy and shifty on the more unstable course C race area – where we have seen the closest racing in the Prada Cup. However, a dying breeze became increasingly unstable as the day wore on and only one race was able to be completed.

But what a race it was, with the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand and Challenger, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli locking horns in a race that truly delivered the sort of spectacle fans had been hoping for.

For a neutral, it was a thriller, and it must have been edge of the seat stuff for Italian or New Zealand fans watching.

That New Zealand won the race, however, sees them now just a single win away from a successful defence of the America’s Cup and on today’s evidence things do look a little ominous for the Italians.

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There might not be as much in it as some had thought, but the Kiwi boat is increasingly looking the stronger of the two. It might not be the sort of speed advantage Emirates Team New Zealand enjoyed when they won the Cup in 2017, but given any space at all by the Italian team, it is enough to get them into the lead.

As we head into tomorrow, Luna Rossa will need to sail perfect races to prevent the Kiwis winning this America’s Cup contest – and they will need to do so for the next four races if they want to win it themselves.

Thrilling America’s Cup racing

Both boats got off the startline relatively evenly today, with the kiwis towards the pin end and the Italians to windward with a decent gap. We’ve seen this before and, given enough space, Luna Rossa have typically been able to hold their lane out to the port boundary and leebow tack the New Zealanders once both teams tack at the boundary.

It unfolded exactly as we have previously seen and with both boats tacking onto port, Luna Rossa got their leebow spot and forced New Zealand to tack away. “We did a pretty good job of the start, but we just could not get rid of them getting over to [the port] boundary,” sumarised Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman, Peter Burling after racing.

Photo: ACE / Studio Borlenghi

With the kiwis forced to tack away, Luna Rossa were free to go all the way to the layline for the first windward gate before tacking back. But it was going to be a tight cross, Emirates Team New Zealand using what we now must call their superior speed had pulled themselves back into contention.

At the top gate, Luna Rossa came in on starboard heading towards the left hand gate mark, while New Zealand, on port, just took the Italian stern to head the other way, the boats rounded at essentially the same time, officially with a 1 second lead to the Italians.

On the first upwind the right side of the course (looking upwind) had seen the better puffs and that theme continued on the downwind, with the Kiwis sailing in stronger pressure before the first gybe.

Sure enough, at the cross it was Burling and co. who had taken the lead from the Italian boat steered by Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni. But the Italians were now heading to that favoured side.

By the next cross it looked as though Luna Rossa would cross clear in front. In a brilliant matchracing move, Spithill and Bruni gybed Luna Rossa dead in front of the Kiwis, forcing them to try to use their superior downwind speed to roll over the top of the Italian boat.

However, there simply wasn’t the space before the layline for the bottom gate for the Kiwis to get over the top and Luna Rossa were able to hold the Kiwi boat out almost to the boundary, going well beyond the layline, before gybing and leading both boats on a tight reach back in to the gate.

Photo: ACE / Studio Borlenghi

As this series has rolled on, it has become clearer that New Zealand do have a minor boatspeed advantage, and that Luna Rossa need to deliver excellence to keep the faster boat behind them. The team have alluded to the need to ‘get their elbows out’ to prevent the kiwis passing and they were making an excellent fist of it so far.

Once again on the next upwind, as we have seen when Luna Rossa have led throughout this series, it was a case of the Italian boat tacking on the New Zealanders at every opportunity and trying to ensure that Burling and his team were sailing in dirty air as often as possible.

It was tight racing, but the Italians just managed to hold onto their lead at the end of the leg, and managed to hold onto it on the downwind too. However, here the Kiwis managed to get a split at the leeward gate and there was just 3 seconds between the boats as they rounded.

Photo: ACE / Studio Borlenghi

By the time both boats had tacked at the boundary on opposite sides of the course, it looked as though it would be very close, with Luna Rossa coming back across with starboard advantage. As they crossed, the Italians still led but it was too close for them to tack in front or in a leebow position and they were forced to let the Kiwis go alone to the favoured right hand side of the course.

Both teams, again went all the way to the boundary and by the time they came to cross again, Luna Rossa has impressively managed to hold onto their lead and were able to tack dead in front of the Kiwis. Unfortunately, this just forced Emirates Team New Zealand back towards the powerful right and – probably the only mistake we saw from Luna Rossa all race – the Italians let them go for a bit.

That was the only opening the Kiwis needed and with a decent shift they came storming back in from the right to lead the race by fully 18 seconds at the final gate.

It will be a huge blow for Spithill, Bruni and their crew, who got close to delivering perfection, and ultimately fell short by a tiny margin.

Tomorrow the Italians must come out and deliver that perfection if they want to beat this kiwi team, and then they must do it again, and again, and again, and again to win the Cup.

It’s a tall order and a successful defence of the America’s Cup is startling to look a little bit more a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ for New Zealand. But we have been in this position before and it would be foolish to start engraving the trophy just yet. Spithill and Bruni showed today they can still win if they get everything right but there is now no room for error.

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