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America's Cup Race 9: Tightest Battle of the Match So Far (VIDEO)

16th March 2021
Emirates Team New Zealand on Match Point
Emirates Team New Zealand on Match Point

Emirates Team New Zealand move within one win of retaining the Auld Mug after day 6 of the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland Harbour.

The first race of the day was without any doubt the tightest match raced so far, with Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli fighting neck to neck until the Defender took the lead on the penultimate leg and sailed to a 6:3 score.

Race 10 was due to start at 5:45 pm but a last-minute wind shift forced the Race Committee to call off the match and the teams push the stop button one more time until tomorrow at 4:15, but the end might not be around the corner just yet.

Emirates Team New Zealand beat Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

Race 9
Start: 1645
Port: NZL
Stbd: ITA
Course: C
Axis: 266
Length: 1.86nm
Current: 0.1 knots @ 137
Wind: 12-13 knots 255 degrees
Winner: Emirates Team New Zealand 30 seconds

Today had a very different feel. Today was the first day that the America’s Cup could be won. Today was the chance for the Italians to redress the balance after a day in which they had lost two races after winning the starts and maintaining their advantage for the first few legs. Today was the day that Emirates Team New Zealand could take another step towards winning the Cup.

Emirates Team New Zealand entered cleanly across Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli who took their time to gybe around and head out to the right-hand side of the pre-start zone. The Kiwis were first to get there, gybing around while the Italians tacked before diving back down to the Kiwis.

Plenty of weaving followed as both boats tried to slow down on their approach to the start line. With the greater wind speeds the pre-start zone was feeling smaller.

The start was even, both on starboard but a big big gap between the two as they charged out to the left-hand boundary at 30 knots.

A critical tack was coming – could Luna Rossa get up to the Kiwis and cast dirty air on them? The Italians’ height mode was working as they eventually forced the Kiwis to tack off while they headed for the right-hand lay line for the top gate who had to put in two tacks to get around the top gate plus. As they came together the Kiwis dipped the Italians’ transom to take the right-hand mark of Gate 1, while Luna Rossa took the left-hand mark, leading by just a second.

As the pair split on the downwind leg the Kiwis seemed to get a better gust of breeze and managed to cross in front of the ItaliansAs the pair split on the downwind leg the Kiwis seemed to get a better gust of breeze and managed to cross in front of the Italians

As the pair split on the downwind leg the Kiwis seemed to get a better gust of breeze and managed to cross in front of the Italians when they came back together a lead change followed. Now they had swapped sides, gone to the full width of the course and were about to come back at each other for another cross. This time it was the Italians who were in front, another lead change. By the bottom gate a perfectly executed gybe by the Italians protected their position and forced the Kiwis to follow them through Gate 2.

As the second beat continued the battle remained close but by the top at Gate 3 the Italians had protected their lead once again. The same was true of Leg 4 with yet more close racing. At the bottom Luna Rossa LR rounded the right-hand mark of Gate 4 and were 3 seconds ahead as Emirates Team New Zealand took the left-hand mark. The Italians had released their cover on the Kiwis, although they retained the starboard tack advantage. When they came back together Luna Rossa was still ahead.

But the big change came towards the top of Leg 5 when the pair came together once againBut the big change came towards the top of Leg 5 when the pair came together once again

But the big change came towards the top of Leg 5 when the pair came together once again. Now it was the turn of the Kiwis to come back in on starboard. But Luna Rossa were just ahead as they crossed and tacked in front of the Kiwis forcing the defenders to tack back to the right-hand side of the course. Was this another risk? The Italians would be on port tack when they came back.

But there was trouble in store as the breeze shifted right, benefitting the Kiwis.

By the time the pair came back for Gate 5 Team New Zealand had taken the lead, rounding the left-hand mark ahead by 18 seconds.

One leg to the finish with a distance of 400 m between the pair, this was a big distance to make up for the Italians with so little runway left. As Emirates Team New Zealand came into the finish they had taken Race 9 by 29 seconds in the closing stages of the race.

A dramatic and closely fought race to place Emirates Team New Zealand within just one win to take the 36th America’s Cup.

Update from Emirates Team New Zealand (after Race 9):

Both teams headed out to course C onto the Hauraki Gulf today with the same game plan. Keeping it simple - and just focusing on the next race. In what has become a roller coaster of extreme emotions for everyone involved in this 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada, that may sound like a tough call - but for the Defender and Challenger, it is all about focusing on the next move, the next call, and then the next move after that.

For the eleven athletes onboard Emirates Team New Zealand as they headed out on the water, the last leg of the race today is light-years away. Performing in such a pressure cooker environment is normal for the Te Rehutai crew, who thrive in the cauldron of America’s Cup, Olympic and round the world races, forging nerves of steel and an absolute reliance on the group around them. As flight controller Blair Tuke commented: “To turn that round in Race 8 was just massive for the team.” With two wins from two races yesterday, Emirates Team New Zealand were looking to pile the pressure on their opposition - one race at a time.

After a delay in racing waiting for the breeze to stabilise for Race Course C, there were elbows out on the water by Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, and though it was close, they led up leg one, protecting their lead at every opportunity and using their high mode in the critical and close moments. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were first around the first windward gate, but it was tight - just one second separating the boats, who rounded and accelerated downwind at 43 knots. The Italians were just ahead on leg 2, and with Emirates Team New Zealand close behind, an aggressive match racing move by Jimmy Spithill on board Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli at the bottom of the course reminded the crew onboard Te Rehutai this race was far from over, as they were pushed out wide, rounding the bottom gate 100 metres behind the Italians.

As we saw yesterday in Race 8, nothing is certain in this event, and with changeable weather conditions forecast to arrive, Peter Burling and his team held on, staying in the fight, chipping away and reducing the deficit to 78 metres. Again Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli rounded the top gate in front, doubling their lead to 142 metres on leg 4, but they knew they had a fight on their hands as tension in the voices of co-helmsman Spithill and Bruni revealed. Splitting at the bottom gate, Emirates Team New Zealand headed back up leg 5, and were tacked on the middle of the course, and so peeled off to look for clear air on the right-hand side of the course - then gained from a right hand wind shift which was the game-changer in this race. For Burling and his team, this allowed them to accelerate towards the final top gate, but for the Italians it was simply not what they wanted, as they were headed by the shift – and you could hear it in Jimmy Spithill’s voice. For the crew onboard Te Rehutai, this was the opportunity they were looking for – and they seized it, rounding the final top gate in front, turning down towards the finish line at 41 knots, quickly extending out to a 500 metre lead to take Race 9 by 30 seconds, and lead the regatta 6-3.

For co-helmsman onboard Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Jimmy Spithill, it was another tough moment, with just two words for his crew as he crossed the line. “Sorry boys.” His co helm Francesco Bruni expanded on their race loss. “Yes unfortunately, we did let it get away – but chin up and keep fighting, as we know we can win races. No surprise we played very elbows out today, particularly at the bottom of Leg 2. They were overlapped behind us and so couldn’t gybe, so we stretched out a little there. It was a fantastic race and no big regrets. No change to the game plan, its about picking the right shifts at the right time.”

After the win, Emirates Team New Zealand helm Peter Burling remained calm and focused on the job at hand. “It was a pretty tight race and one little right shift decided it for us. I think we did a good job at the start – it's good fun racing and great to be back on course C, and having a really good battle with a good team. We will keep fighting and keep trying to win races. This team has been in this position before, and so it about keeping improving, keep moving forwards. That race was close, and so we know we are going to have to sail well in the next one.”

With weather conditions shifting across the racecourse as the time limit expired, the race committee were unable to run the second race of the day, and so we go into tomorrow with Emirates Team New Zealand leading the event 6-3. With the winner the first to win 7 races, tomorrow will see a massive day for both teams out on the Hauraki gulf in this extraordinary 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada.

Published in America's Cup
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