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America's Cup is Game On in First to Seven Points Match

10th March 2021
The opening day of the 36th America's Cup has delivered no guide. Instead, it had proved just how closely matched these two teams are and how the Cup looks unlikely to be a walkover, for either Emirates Team New Zealand or Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
The opening day of the 36th America's Cup has delivered no guide. Instead, it had proved just how closely matched these two teams are and how the Cup looks unlikely to be a walkover, for either Emirates Team New Zealand or Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance and significance of the first race in any America’s Cup as the anticipation and build up that proceeds the first day is beyond anything else in sailing.

Day one of the 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada didn’t disappoint with the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand and the Challenger Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli sitting on a tie after two races. Pretty even performances between the two boats once again confirmed that there is no space for mistakes.

Today’s results clearly show that there is a long way to go in this first to 7 points America’s Cup Match. As 170 years of history taught us, the game is far from over.

Race 1 - Emirates Team New Zealand beat Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

Race 1
Start: 1615
Port: NZL
Stbd: ITA
Course: E
Axis: 358
Length: 1.85nm
Current: 0.2 knots @ 163
Wind 10-12kts

Winner Emirates Team New Zealand – 0:31

As the clock counted down during the last few minutes before the start of the 36th America’s Cup presented by PRADA the wind speed had settled at 10 to 12kts. One of the pre-start variables was established.

Emirates Team New Zealand entered from the left-hand side on port tack heading into the pre-start zone at 44 knots. As they crossed the bow of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli with distance to spare, both boats headed deep into the zone. As they moved towards the right-hand corner and gybed to head deeper the pair prepared to lock horns. But as both headed back towards the start line, judging the time on distance for the return was crucial. Both appeared to be early as Emirates Team New Zealand switched to take the windward position as each headed up to slow down. Neither came off their foils but these were precious seconds for both as they tried to kill time. Luna Rossa’s co-helm Jimmy Spithill forced the Kiwis who were to windward up further as he tried to control the line up.

First race winner, Emirates Team New ZealandFirst race winner, Emirates Team New Zealand

But as both crossed the line the defenders had a slight advantage sitting to windward and looking to overhaul the challengers.

In an attempt to prevent the Kiwis from rolling over their breeze and Luna Rossa tried to luff the Kiwis and pressed the button for a protest, complaining that Emirates Team New Zealand had not kept clear. From the air it looked like a desperate attempt to prevent the inevitable. The umpires took the same view and refused to award a penalty.

The move had been an Italian gamble that hadn’t paid off and had slowed them up in the process, delivering the advantage to Emirates Team New Zealand.

From there, the home team kept their lead throughout the three-lap race and while the distance between them ebbed and flowed with each leg and never got larger than 23 seconds, Luna Rossa were unable to make a big enough impression on the Kiwi lead.

After 23 minutes of racing Emirates Team New Zealand took the first win of the 36th America’s Cup in a race that was defined by the first few seconds off the start.

Race 2 - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli beat Emirates Team New Zealand 

Start: 1715
Port: ITA
Stbd: NZL
Course: E
Axis: 358
Length: 2nm
Current: 0.1 knots @ 172
Winner – Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli – 0:07 

As both boats came into the start zone the breeze had increased a notch and was now sitting at 13kts.

The entries were now reversed from the previous race, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli came in from the left on port, with Emirates Team New Zealand entering from the right.

Once again both headed out towards the right-hand side of the pre-start area, but this time Team New Zealand tacked around while the Italians gybed. When the Kiwis came down from above to engage with the Italians they were a little slow to do so and ended up trailing. The result was that the early advantage went to the Italians forcing the Kiwis to tack onto port at the start in order to try and escape the clutches of their opponents.

Second race winner Luna Rossa Prada PirelliSecond race winner Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

But co-helmsmen Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni had anticipated this and tacked quickly to cover.

As the pair headed out to the right and the next tack ensued, Luna Rossa delivered a similar defensive move, tacking on the bow of Team New Zealand and sailing as high as possible to prevent the Kiwis from coming through. The tactic was working but the margin remained small.

On the next tack back onto port, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were to windward but Emirates Team New Zealand had clear wind to leeward. Was this their opportunity to put their foot down and slide through to leeward?

It might have been an opportunity, but Peter Burling and Co were unable to exploit it.

Another tack back onto starboard and the Italian defensive position returned.

By gate 1 the Italians had managed to pull a 13 second lead over the Kiwis as both boats rounded the right-hand mark of the gate.

From there little changed on the first downwind leg which was a drag race to gate 2, the Kiwis taking back a single second to round 12seconds behind.

Halfway up the second beat, the Italians benefitted from picking the better side of the course and extended their lead to 250m on the water. Yet despite the physical distance between the two, the Italians continued to cover their opponents.

By gate 3 Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli had extended their lead to 25 seconds as they rounded the left-hand mark of the gate, accelerating to 49.8kts as they did so.

An indication of how hard the Kiwis were chasing came as they turned the same mark hitting 51knots as they did so. On the water, the distance between the pair was now 430m.

As the Italians prepared to round the left-hand mark of gate 4 they dropped their starboard foil, the first indication that they wanted to pull off a high-speed tack out of the rounding. They did and indeed it was perfect.

But heading for the right-hand side of the course cost them distance on the Kiwis who rounded the same left-hand mark but headed out to the left. By the time the pair came back together, the margin had decreased significantly and by gate 5 the time between them was just 12 seconds, down from 24.

On the last downwind leg to the finish, the tension built as the Kiwis brought some breeze with them and pulled back a few more seconds.

By the finish, it was close, just 7 seconds. But a win is a win, whatever the margin. The Italians had put their first point on the board, the scores were now even.

So, for those looking for a clear indication as to who has the upper hand in the 36th America’s Cup, the opening day delivered no guide. Instead, it had proved just how closely matched these two teams are and how the Cup looks unlikely to be a walkover, for either team.

The Match will resume on Friday 12th of March at 4:15 pm NZT weather permitting, with no possible start later than 6:00 pm NZT. Race days in March are Saturday 13, Sunday 14, Monday 15 and each day after that until either Emirates Team New Zealand or Luna Rossa Prada Pireli reach seven wins.

Update from Team Emirates New Zealand

Race 1 With Emirates Team New Zealand entering on port, they chose to sail deep, then lead out to the boundary. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli followed, engaging them below the line, and giving Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Peter Burling a glimpse of the line to windward of the Italians - and he took it, starting strongly to windward at speed and on time, quickly gaining a lead of 18 metres on their opposition. For race one of the 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada, this forced the Italians into a choice - hold on to the leeward position and try to gauge the speed of Emirates Team New Zealand, or throw a high risk manoeuvre to try for a foul. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill luffed hard, trying for the protest and failed, slowing him and allowing Emirates Team New Zealand to ease ahead. Heading up to the first windward gate that lead extended to 160 metres, and rounding the top gate 14 seconds ahead of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, the focus now for Burling, Tuke and Ashby was to sail cleanly and keep a close cover on their opposition. This they did, extending to 380 metres on leg two and 314 metres on leg 3. Both teams split at the bottom gate of leg 4, but this had little impact, with Burling heard to say, “lets take the easy option”, keeping it simple and rounding the final top gate 230 metres and 20 seconds ahead. Emirates Team New Zealand kept it tight to extend on the final leg to the finish, extending to 550 metres, winning race 1 by 31 seconds.

As Peter Burling commented on race 1. “Really happy with the pre-start and how the team has the boat in good shape. We should have probably hit them harder on the second beat, but happy with the boat and to finally get into racing. It’s been three months or so since we last raced - and great to compete against another boat rather than our chase boat.”

Emirates Team New Zealand kept it tight to extend on the final leg to the finish, extending to 550 metres, winning race 1 by 31 secondsEmirates Team New Zealand kept it tight to extend on the final leg to the finish, extending to 550 metres, winning race 1 by 31 seconds

Race 2 With both teams changing down to smaller jibs for the increased shifty and gusty conditions, they were keen to reset and get into the second race of the day. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli entered on port, heading out to the boundary to gybe back to the line, with Emirates Team New Zealand staying high, tacking back in then soaking down to engage. Coming back in late allowed Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli the lead to the line, and as in race 1, control of the race course in these conditions was strongly with the boat in front. Both boats sailed in the high mode up the first leg, looking for a chink in their opponents armour, but the boat speeds looked similar and so it was all about minimising mistakes. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli kept it tight and headed into the first gate extending a 70 metre lead out to almost 300 metres after rounding the first gate ahead by 13 seconds.

Legs 2 and 3 saw Emirates Team New Zealand work hard to get out of phase with the covering Italians and make some gains. This they did on leg 5, eating hard into the lead of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, with 12 seconds the gap at the final top gate. With Burling and Ashby pushing hard looking for added breeze, the gap on the finish line was reduced to just 7 seconds, levelling the scores on the opening day of the 36th America’s Cup presented by PRADA to one win apiece.

As Jimmy Spithill commented at the end of the day “We just kept the boat going well, and it was a good sign of strength to bounce back after that first race. I think it was one of those race tracks where the lead boat had the advantage - picking the time to tack or gybe. It is great to be competitive!”

For Peter Burling, it was an honest appraisal of race 2. “We didn’t get the best start, not quite doing the best job of the roundup, and ending up skidding sideways and falling into them - which was a shame, and we looked a bit rusty there. What was really good was to be able to get back into them on that last beat. It is no secret we haven’t raced for a while - it was great to get the first win, but one mistake and life is pretty hard for the rest of the race. There is plenty to debrief and we know the team that wins the last race wins the event, so we are happy to get a win on the board and move onto the weekend. it felt like the boats were pretty even today - but we are happy we have a tool to win this.”

Published in America's Cup Team

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