The first race of the Louis Vuitton semi finals has produced the closest race of the event so far

At last – a lead change in an AC34 race. I don’t mean to sound flippant, but lets face it, while the boats have been as spectacular to watch as the rate at which the crews are climbing the learning curve, the one thing we haven’t seen until today in the Louis Vuitton Challenger Series is a race. But in the first day of the semi-finals between Luna Rossa and Artemis, we did and a special one at that.

Not only was there a lead change, something we haven’t seen so far, but the underdogs recovered a large chunk of their deficit to the leaders on the first beat – we haven’t seen that before either. And all from a team that has had just nine days sailing on its foiling boat versus what is said to be the Italians’ 80 days.

For a couple of legs the racing was exciting stuff, a match that was close to what we all had hoped for. But the strangest thing of all perhaps, given that this is the uber-serious America’s Cup, is that both teams were grinning like Cheshire cats after the race. In a match race where there is a winner and a loser, this is clearly a big break from the norm. So why?

For Luna Rossa, winning their first race will have been a huge relief for a team that has lost every race it has entered so far in this series and by some humiliating margins too. Winning makes everyone feel better and can do wonders to lift and transform a team. The Italian team will also have good cause to feel better about themselves after some of the best boat handling we’ve seen from this team including some superb foil to foil gybes.

What they won’t want to dwell on perhaps is just how quick Artemis were on the race course. After throwing away the start by entering late after they had been forced to slow down and fix a tear in their wing sail, Luna Rossa also saw Artemis make a better time on distance charge to the line. Iain Percy’s team then charged headlong at the first mark to lead the Italians around it, but their glory was short lived. Unable to keep the boat on its foils for the gybe, Luna Rossa took the lead thanks to a near perfect gybe, a lead that they never gave back. But unlike the Italian/Kiwi matches, the racing wasn’t over as Percy’s team hauled back some of what they had lost on the next upwind leg to round the windward gate on the tail of the Italians. It was impressive stuff and no doubt one of the reasons why Percy’s team looked so upbeat as they crossed the finish line.

But Artemis had plenty more to be chuffed about. They had completed their first race, a major achievement. Crossing the line 2min behind, they had also finished closer to Luna Rossa than the Italians had managed in any of their matches with the Kiwis. This was the closest race of the AC34 to date. So while Percy’s team may have lost it’s first race, their performance was something to smile about. When they look at the stats in their de-brief there will be plenty more to feel satisfied about with numbers that tell the tale of a far closer race than either side was expecting.

At the rate the Swedish team is learning, there is good cause to believe that they might just stir things up in this semi final.

LV Semi Final Race 1    ITA            SWE
Distance Sailed (km)    34.789      34.629
Average Speed (kts)     26.04       24.75
Max Speed (kts)           38.59       40.32