Emirates Team New Zealand have taken two more race wins to go 6-1 up in the America's Cup match, leaving them only one more to win to take the Auld Mug back home
Emirates Team New Zealand have a match point for the America’s Cup after winning two races of the America’s Cup against Oracle Team USA to go 6-1 up in the first-to-seven series.
Sailing’s longest grudge match is moving clinically towards its final act.
A lone race win yesterday by Oracle fuelled US hopes of a comeback, but before the start of the first race they were were stomped on firmly by Peter Burling and the New Zealand team.
In both races it was Burling who made the better start, and in the second he made his most aggressive pre-start manoeuvre to date, luffing Oracle almost to a standstill before sprinting away.
After admitting too many mistakes themselves yesterday, Emirates Team New Zealand came out rebooted, and this time it was Spithill who made all the errors, including getting a penalty for straying into the boundary.
Why so many have crept in now, from a team which has made relatively few in the qualifiers, is the big question, and for clues you have to look to the changes Spithill says they have made to their boat. To improve speed, they have lightened it by a rumoured 100kg and fitted a modified and extended version of their high speed boards.
Those changes will have affected the boats’s characteristics and stability, and Spithill as much as admitted it yesterday when he said described the quest for speed as a “a compromise. Typically, what’s fast is very challenging to sail and usually unstable.”
Watch Chris Draper, tactician of SoftBank Team Japan, analyse what the two teams are doing, and speculate on how these boats could be developed in this video interview with Elaine.
Emirates Team New Zealand playing it better
With winds that ended up being a little lighter today than the 12 knots forecast, this stability/handling issue may have been exacerbated for Oracle. Was this the reason for sinking lengthily onto two hulls in the pre-start and at the leeward gate in the first race?
(That’s H2 in America’s Cup terminology, by the way; H1 is one hull flying and H0 is fully foiling.)
New Zealand’s wins, on the other hand, are a testimony to their radical approach in so many areas, from cyclors to electronic inputs, as well as the skill and composure of the crew. In the second race of the day today, they foiled the entire way round the course.
Another factor is Burling’s particular gifts. The man is an apparent wind beast, and a master at staying in phase with the wind shifts.
So, now, Oracle Team USA have no leeway for error. They are, as Spithill euphemistically put it: “in a spot.”
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We asked Spithill if he would consider a change to key crew on Oracle Team USA tomorrow, recalling that one of the turnaround points in San Francisco was swapping out tactician John Kostecki for Ben Ainslie.
“I think everything’s on the table,” he replied. “Every single member in Oracle Team USA will do whatever will help the team win and that’s my attitude too.
“We’ll go back, review and throw everything on the table: the team, the people, the boat. And the configuration on the water tomorrow will be whatever we think will give us our best chance of winning.”
Spithill kept saying all they had to do was win one race, and take it one race at a time. (His Dad had a good line too.)
This is true. But so is the fact that they will now have to win six in a row against the fastest boat in the 166-year history of the America’s Cup. It’s a bit different this time.
And that boat is sailed, as we now know, by a helmsman so cool-headed they probably have to heat his helmet off at the end of races.
All the same, the buff boxer wasn’t about to show any chink of weakness.
“The boat is actually quite quick and very competitive,” Spithill countered. “I still think we can win races, we can improve it and we proved we can win races against these guys if we sail well, but if we make mistakes like we did today, we won’t win races.
“Tonight we’re going to do some work in the shed. There are a couple of things we want to try and tonight the boys will be on the tools.”
Peter Burling kept repeating the same mantra he has done all along. “I think there’s plenty of fight out there. We keep pushing forward, we are learning and improving.”
He didn’t look that excited, but then Burling never has. Tomorrow, though, is the day we could see a different face. One more win by Burling and Co, a single 20-minute execution is all it will take to book the Cup a return flight to Auckland.