Having squeezed both their boats into the four-boat match racing series, GBR Challenge are finding the bedrock of the America’s Cup uncomfortable

A successful technical protest against Ian Walker’s GBR-52 by the Prada team in the final fleet race swept their Luna Rossa to the top of the table ahead of GBR Challenge’s 2000-vintage boat. With Team New Zealand a very solid, dependable third, fourth place was scrapped out in the protest room between Bill Koch’s America3 and GBR-41, both 1995-vintage boats.

The contentious moment took place at the start of the final fleet race. During the prestart, the Beadsworth-driven GBR-41 found herself sandwiched between Luna Rossa to leeward and America3 to windward. Luna Rossa naturally started to squeeze up towards the start line, forcing GBR-41 to do likewise.

Applying the windward boat must keep clear rule, GBR-41 tried to push America3 to windward but as this would have out her over the line, she gamely resisted. Then the two boats touched and the on-the-water judges ruled in GBR-41’s favour, sweeping her into the match racing phase of the competition.

Of all the aspects of America’s Cup racing, match racing is perhaps the most critical. A slower boat can beat a faster boat if its match racing skills are sharp enough and after 14 years out of the game, ours aren’t. Racing in the Swedish Match series is certainly reviving that side of the project but we’ve a way to go yet.

America’s Cup 2000 finalist Luna Rossa, as top qualifier, chose her opposition and picked the 1995-vintage GBR-41. Beadsworth certainly gave the Italians a run in the prestart but when the gun went, it was a silver bullet that streaked out and led from start to finish.

The match between the mighty NZL-32 (1995-vintage) and GBR-52 (2000) was a far closer affair. Team New Zealand’s reputation needs to mention and NZL-32 has lost just a single race in her Louis Vuitton/America’s Cup history.

The light airs and strong currents didn’t help either party but it was NZL-32 that crossed the line first. GBR-52 helm Andy Green elected to split the beat and rely on superior boatspeed to close the gap. NZL-32 reached the top mark first but she misread the strength of the tide and snagged her keel on the buoy’s anchor rode.

By the time the Kiwis untied themselves, Green and his team had slipped through and built a lead of 1m 30s at the bottom mark. Back at the top of the course, the British sense of fair play obliged us to collect the buoy’s anchor rode, so successfully that eventually the line had to be cut, but not before NZL-32 had skipped past to win by a minute and some.

“Obviously, it’s a very disappointing result,” said Green. “The good news is that we have another chance tomorrow, and if we sail as we did today, we should get a better result. The guys were fantastic, and the crew work was flawless.”

Weather permitting, the match racing will continue today but at the top of the table, it’s America’s Cup 2000 all over again: Team New Zealand versus Prada.