Emirates Team New Zealand win the America’s Cup World Series, which concluded in Auckland this morning

Can the Kiwis be beaten for the 36th America’s Cup? They must be on short odds already, three months out from the main event, given the dominant performance of Emirates Team New Zealand to win the Auckland America’s Cup World Series, which concluded this morning.

After 12 races, it came down to a final race decider between Challenger of Record Luna and the home Defenders for the PRADA America’s Cup World Series Auckland trophy. With Emirates Team New Zealand and American Magic on even points, a win against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli would give the Kiwis the point that they needed to take the trophy.

Going into this morning, both the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand had taken three wins apiece over the previous two days racing, with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli winning two of four, and INEOS Team UK trailing with four losses.

The opening race was yet another straight defeat for INEOS Team UK, who were left trailing by Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and finished almost two legs behind. It’s been clear since the start of the America’s Cup World Series that INEOS Team UK are struggling for boat speed in light airs as well as foil control, and the British boat lost valuable ground by coming off the foils at several points during the race.

Today’s second contest was between Emirates Team New Zealand and American Magic. The dark blue American boat has looked to be the closest to Emirates Team New Zealand’s speed over the range of conditions we’ve seen so far, and rather than engage in a close pre-start duel this race started with a speed-off-the-line contest. Emirates Team New Zealand were at the pin end while American Magic were at the committee boat end, both boats at speed and on starboard.

36th America’s Cup presented by Prada, Race Day 3: Emirates Team New Zealand v New York Yacht Club American Magic

When the pair came back together, after the Kiwis had tacked onto port, the Americans used the starboard tactical advantage to tack in front of Emirates Team New Zealand. Advantage American Magic. Eventually the Kiwis tacked away, unable and unwilling to live in the dirty air of the Americans, who were able to continue to work the right-hand side of the course handing them a slight further advantage, but the margin was still slim.

Meanwhile, Emirates Team New Zealand showed they are not invincible: mishandling a tack momentarily and splashing down off the foils, which helped to hand American Magic a few more metres. By the top gate on the first lap, American Magic led Emirates Team New Zealand by 12 seconds. But by the bottom mark Emirates Team New Zealand had hauled American Magic in to trail by just 3 seconds as they went through the leeward gate.

The big race changing moment came at the top of the second beat when the Americans came off their foils through a tack and parked up just short of the windward gate. The mistake proved costly, handing the lead to the Kiwis who rounded the windward mark 54 seconds ahead. The black boat held on to win by 1min 19 seconds.

In the day’s penultimate race, American Magic beat INEOS TEAM UK by a considerable margin of 5min 48 seconds. Although both teams picked up penalties – INEOS for being early into the start box, American Magic for slipping over the boundary, the delta between the two only expanded as the wind dropped, signing off what will be a very concerning ACWS for Ben Ainslie and the British crew.

36th America’s Cup presented by Prada, Race Day 3: New York Yacht Club American Magic v Ineos Team UK

This left the final race as the decider – if the Kiwis beat the Italians they would win the first contest for the AC75s overall. One of the surprises of this World Series has been how much pre-start engagement we have already seen from the skippers in this experimental new class, and plenty of that has already featured Luna Rossa. “Jimmy Spithill has always, always, got his elbows out,” commentator and Olympian Shirley Robertson observed on the first day. This race was no exception: Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli showing their intent with a perfect port tack shortly after forcing Emirates Team New Zealand into the unfavoured corner of the start zone, nicknamed ‘coffin corner’ by the sailors. New Zealand’s Peter Burling could only follow the Italians over the line, who were already over 200m ahead.

By the first gate, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were ahead by 32seconds, and when Emirates Team New Zealand pinched around the top mark only to come off their foils in the process that margin grew to 800m. But when Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli splashed down as well, the race became a match to see who could take-off and get back to full pace soonest.

Emirates Team New Zealand took flight first, doubling their speed over Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, 24 to 12 knots respectively. But the news for the Italians was about to get even worse as the Kiwis stayed with their breeze to sail at 29 knots, while Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli struggled to break 15. This has been a repeating pattern over the World Series – the New Zealand team is not immune to mistakes, but they have consistently seemed able to recover, and get back up to full foiling pace, faster than their competitors.

36th America’s Cup presented by Prada, Race Day 3: Emirates Team New Zealand v Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team

The rest of the race was not flawless – again the Kiwis came off their foils during a slow tack, and around the last gate had just an 18 seconds lead. The pair split across the course, searching for uninterrupted speed rather than tactical gains, but when they came back together at the finish it was the Kiwis that had held their lead to finish 16 seconds ahead of the Italians and in doing so, Emirates Team New Zealand win the Prada America’s Cup World Series.

Emirates Team New Zealand’s foil controller Blair Tuke summed up after racing: “It was tough coming off the foils, so we were happy to get back up again, but a bit more happy when they came off foils! The wind got down to 6 knots at one point, so it was an awesome effort to get going by the lads and keep it going for the rest of the race – so all good.

PRADA ACWS Auckland 202, Peter Burling holds the trophy as Emirates Team New Zealand wins the America’s Cup World Series

“It has been an epic day’s racing, American Magic and Luna Rossa are certainly going really well in these conditions – great to secure the win in front of a fantastic crowd out there.

“This is great for the team in general but there is plenty more work to do.”

Racing continues with the single day ‘Christmas Race’ knockout series tomorrow, find out how you can watch here.

Skippers quotes:

Peter Burling, Helmsman – Emirates Team New Zealand:

“Today was at the bottom end of the wind range we agreed to sail on. We could really notice big gains and losses, which made it a tricky race. We had a pretty good race with Luna Rossa, even if we were seeing some pretty light numbers, so it made for a pretty tricky end of the race.

“We really enjoyed the challenge. We were blown away by how many kiwis showed up to see us here and seeing how many boats were around the racetrack.

Jimmy Spithill, Helmsman – Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team

“Today was a little bit patchy. At every start, the wind was at the correct speed to kick off the race, but there clearly were a couple of errors on the course, but the guys that did a better job of that won the race.

“Francesco and I get to discuss the [pres-start] strategy before the start. There is certain times where you are the helmsman and you make the decision, and the other guy is really doing the foil trimming, and every time you are the helmsman you have to make the decision. It’s been a fun process: it’s something completely new, never done before in the Cup, so it’s been really cool experience. Felt good to come off the line well both times”.

Dean Barker, Helmsman – New York American Magic
“We were looking forward to having a good close race with Team NZ, it was nice to have a small advantage at the beginning, but when you drop off the foil it’s sort of game over. These boats are challenging at the bottom wind range”.

Sir Ben Ainslie, Skipper – INEOS Team UK
“Tough day, particularly in lighter air we are struggling. There is certainly a lot for us to look at in terms of what went wrong. The other three teams are doing a much better job than we are, so we’ve got to figure that out pretty quickly. All boats stopped, some more than others”.