The American defenders had no answers to the raw boatspeed of the challengers Emirates Team New Zealand today – whose back-to-back wins see them go 3-0 up in the America’s Cup first to seven points finals
For the many who want to know who has the quicker boat out of Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup finals, today produced an unequivocal answer.
For a fleeting moment in the second of two races – just as the two foiling cats crossed the start line – Oracle Team USA nosed ahead. But they spent the rest of both races looking at the rooster tails of whitewater flying off the appendages of Emirates Team New Zealand get further out of sight.
The big question going into today’s racing was whether Oracle Team USA would be able to get ahead and if so, would they be able to stay ahead? No.
Both teams sailed consistently well – gone were the errors of yesterday in today’s more stable flying conditions. That the kiwi challengers were quicker to accelerate and sailed faster upwind for a better angle will be particularly demoralising for the Oracle camp. If you can’t pass the opposition, you can’t win the race, simple.
Were this against any other team, the writing could be on the wall for Oracle Team USA after a weekend of four successive defeats. They were, however, famously in a similar position in the last America’s Cup in San Francisco. Are we going to see history repeat itself? (minus Ben Ainslie).
The expectation going into today was that Oracle Team USA would get the jump on the challengers at the start in the drag race to the first gate rounding, by using their higher speed (less drag for higher winds) foil package. That didn’t happen. The acceleration and then average high speed of the Emirates team was too hot to match.
The New Zealand team have accumulated a rather incredible record here in Bermuda – when they have lead at the first mark, they have yet to be passed in the whole America’s Cup thus far.
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America’s Cup TV commentator Ken Read described today as “absolute dominance – no one saw this coming… It’s not crisis time, but it’s very concerning.”
“We’ve got five very, very important days – we need to get faster,” was Jimmy Spithill’s answer after losing his fourth match in a row. “We need to find more speed. It’s pretty obvious.”
So why are Emirates Team New Zealand this much quicker suddenly?
Is it the angular foils? Is it the extra power of the kiwi ‘cyclors’? Is it the reduced windage of keeping the wing trimmer and helmsman sat in the boat (pictured below)? Is it Glenn Ashby’s revolutionary touch control system for the twist, camber and sheet controls of the wing that allows him to constantly trim and even pump the wing?
These are the sort of questions Oracle Team USA will be asking themselves this evening and this week ahead. The defenders have two things going for them now – five absolutely vital days off and the ability to learn and adapt every aspect they can from their rivals.
As Jimmy Spithill repeatedly said in the post race press conference, ‘everything is on the table’. And that includes learning from their rivals. “The upside for us is that there’s quite a lot of technology out there now – a lot of camera angles, microphones, a lot of data get shared – from both sides really.
“There’s quite a few opportunities there and we’ve really got to take advantage of that. We’ve had our team watching the entire weekend, looking at all the data.”
We will have to wait until next Saturday now to find out if we will see more cyclists or different board designs aboard the defender’s boat. “No idea is out of the question, said Spithill, “You sometimes learn the most when you look over the fence at your competitors.”
And of course, they’ve been here before. In San Francisco, when Oracle Team USA were 8-1 down, the one-day layday was crucial. How pivotal will a five day break prove this time?
If the racing wasn’t tight today, it was certainly absorbing.
Out came Oracle Team USA with their high-speed foils, their plan presumably to win that first drag race to the first mark. The northerly breeze was more stable than yesterday’s easterly, coming in from the sea with less land disturbance – but at around 9-12 knots it was right in the foil transition zone for the defenders.
In the pre-start Spithill tried to push Peter Burling low to the layline, but the latter avoided a hook and both boats raced for the line neck and neck, both executing near perfect time on distance starts.
Oracle Team USA did look slightly quicker on the reach, touching 40 knots in the 10-knot breeze. Crucially however it wasn’t quite enough gas to get ahead of the kiwis.
A slight mistake – blink and you missed it – during USA’s downwind gybe was another key moment that allowed the kiwis to soak down on top of them, dish out their wing wash to the defenders and force them into another manoeuvre to split the gate.
The slight error perhaps became irrelevant when the kiwis showed their turn of speed upwind, where they averaged nearly two knots quicker than the Americans today. The result shows a 49 second victory to Emirates Team New Zealand – the reality was that they looked like they were in a different race.
ETNZ leads 2-0 and the ‘Fly Emirates’ logo on the kiwi’s wing seems more applicable than ever.
The second race saw drama in the pre-start when Emirates Team New Zealand parked dead in the water during their first gybe. Surely Spithill would go for the jugular? But he didn’t have the space to control the kiwi boat.
Telling is the lack of notes I made from then on in. For once the kiwis edged ahead on the initial drag race to the first mark, it just felt like it would be a one-way show unless the Emirates boat made a big mistake…. which they didn’t.
“You wouldn’t think a foiling cat would be able to point that much more than another,” said commentator Ken Read. The kiwis were sailing smart too, playing the shifts and covering when they needed to. “If the boat ahead plays the right shifts, even in the same speed boats – you won’t pass them,” said Read.
Peter Burling was clinical and Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finish line over a minute ahead of the defenders. They proved quicker upwind and sailed at better angles, meaning they sailed over 500m less.
In the press conference we heard a lot of the same stuff. Both teams keep learning, keep improving, the curve is so steep etc. That we’re looking at near 100 per cent flight times in all races now testifies to the improvement in this Cup cycle.
Burling said multiple times that they must and will still keep improving. Spithill assured us they will look at everything, every aspect to improve.
Five days is a long time in this modern format. Is it long enough for the defenders?