Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France prove slow in light winds, while Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA both continue to fly high
Skippers Franck Cammas and Sir Ben Ainslie today suffered two of the harshest defeats so far in the America’s Cup qualifiers in Bermuda. In light winds of 6-7 knots in which their boats could only intermittently foil, the two teams were pulverised by faster rivals though Land Rover BAR came back to grasp a win over France that is enough to take the team through to the playoff round.
It was a day in which we saw Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand give a shining demonstration of their advanced design options/packages and technique, and doing something that would have been considered impossible only a few years ago: sailing at four times the speed of the wind.
Winds were so light these were borderline foiling conditions, and neither the French nor British teams could manage this consistently. In their first races against SoftBank Team Japan and Emirates Team New Zealand respectively, the French and British teams were often unable to carry out foiling gybes and sank into displacement mode, thus opening up huge gaps.
Land Rover BAR were overtaken by Emirates Team New Zealand after nosediving off their foils. Later, Ben Ainslie explained: “We had a systems failure and lost control of the foils, but for sure they would have found a way past anyway.”
Big differences in the foils were obvious to even the most inexpert eyes. Emirates Team New Zealand’s foils were much longer than Land Rover BARs, the tips perhaps 2.5 to 3m in length and shaped with an elbow. ‘Pirelli slicks’, the Kiwi team called them.
Despite the light breeze, Peter Burling hurled his boat through gybes on foils, and the teamwork on board looked poised as ever. But the race also made for strange viewing, both boats sailing low angles in an effort to get up on foils and on occasions going in virtually opposite directions – very disorientating for us conventional sailors.
As Land Rover BAR was almost lapped by their Emirates Team New Zealand, minutes behind, Ainslie called up the race committee to retire from their whitewash by New Zealand. The reason, he explained later: “We had no prospect of overtaking them and we wanted to give the engineers the opportunity of fixing [the control systems] before the next race.”
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Oracle Team USA find a speed edge
In the race between SoftBank Team Japan and Oracle Team USA, boats and foil packages thought to be almost identical, it was evenly matched until finally Oracle got ahead by tacking after the final leeward mark and taking their chances, forcing SoftBank out of sync. Possibly they found a bit more wind, but equally possibly they tapped into just that bit more speed upwind.
“Sorry boys,” said SoftBank Team Japan’s tactician, Chris Draper, at the finish.
The final race between Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France was a nerve-wracking one, with three different lead changes between the two teams struggling most with light winds setups. The French were quicker on the downwind legs, and Land Rover BAR faster upwind. “The foils on Team France are slightly larger. Obviously, pressure is really critical and Giles Scott did a great job, especially on that final leg,” Ainslie explained later.
Land Rover BAR systems problem?
But perhaps there was something else going on too; at one point Ainslie said to the crew “Rudders are gone,” before the rudder elevators presumably stalled and the boat came off foils. In the end, it all worked out for Land Rover BAR, however. On the final beat, they managed to use a port and starboard cross to force Groupama to dip them and go below the layline to the starboard mark while continuing on to lay the port mark themselves.
Their performance today is going to be a major cause for concern for the Land Rover BAR team in their ‘bring the Cup home’ mission, but at least this win was a comfort and enough to take them through to the playoffs, while Groupama, SoftBank and Artemis all have to fight it out to avoid expulsion.
“It was an amazing race,” Ainslie agreed, “one of those you won’t forget for a while.
“We’re through to the playoff round, so goal one is accomplished. In some conditions we feel we’re competitive and some not so, so we have got an opportunity tomorrow [a day of no racing for Land Rover BAR] to see how we can improve.
“We have got to develop and we will be doing all we can to find that performance.”