AUCKLAND: An uneasy stalemate in the 36th match for the America’s Cup continued on Saturday (Mar 13) when defender Team New Zealand and Italian challenger Luna Rossa each took advantage of a pre-start error by the other to leave the best-of-13 race series tied at 3-3.
Luna Rossa exploited Team New Zealand’s mistake in the pre-start to win the first race of the day by 18 seconds and, in a mirror image, Team New Zealand pounced on Luna Rossa’s mistake to win race six by 1 minute and 41 seconds.
One team has to win both races in a day to break the deadlock, but Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill said the teams can only focus on the next race.
“We’re not looking too far ahead,” he said. “Each day we come in and try to focus on the race ahead.
“There will be quite a lot of lessons learned from both races today. We’ll go back, as I’m sure will the other guys, and just come back fighting, stronger and ready to roll.”
Until Saturday, each of the four starts in the series had been won by the team which had port entry to the start box and the team that won the start won the race.
New Zealand skipper Peter Burling called that coincidence and was proven right when the team coming in from starboard, or right-hand side of the course, won both races on Saturday.
Races five and six were sailed on course A off Takapuna Beach in Auckland in a consistent sea breeze of around 7 to 11 knots (13 to 20kmh), slightly fuller in the first race than the second.
The conditions again seemed perfect for Luna Rossa, whose boat is modelled to sail best in the lighter wind range. Luna Rossa’s larger foils, which make it more able to stay up in light wind, also make it more stable and able to manoeuvre faster in the light sea breeze.
But while Saturday’s 1-1 tie again left many questions unanswered, it seems the boats are almost perfectly matched in terms of boat speed in those conditions and the starts are decisive.
In the first race on Saturday, on a time and distance run to the start line, Team New Zealand tried to wear off speed and fell off its foils. Burling had to push the bow down to regain enough speed to be able to tack and in the meantime Luna Rossa swept over the line and sailed away to an immediate 200m lead.
“We obviously just fell off the foil above them,” Burling said. “We thought we had a little more time to kill than we actually did. We didn’t quite manage to get going again and to take off and they shut down the race pretty well from then.”
The lead was unchanged for most of the race. Team New Zealand made slight gains on the second and third upwind, but the 200m lead remained.
Luna Rossa had wanted the left-hand side of the course, and with its early advantage it was able to seize it and defend it. Throughout the race, it kept bouncing Team New Zealand back to the less-favoured right-hand side, taking advantage of the pressure in the middle of the course.
New Zealand was able to hang in throughout the race, but in a consistent breeze, it wasn’t able to overcome Luna Rossa’s initial advantage.
“I think we did a very good job on the start and again it proved to be a very important part of the race,” Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni said. “But also I think we sailed a lot better than what we did in that second race yesterday."
“I think the left was the right call, and during the race the right was not looking as good,” he added.
The second race of the day was the mirror image of the first.
From port entry, Luna Rossa dived down into the far right corner of the start box, but as it prepared to turn back up on its run to the line, it seemed to get stuck in a light spot and wasn’t powered up.
Luna Rossa slowed and Team New Zealand kept up speed on its time and distance run, crossing the line first and quickly sailing to a lead of almost 400m.
“I think it was just a matter of getting caught in no wind and we just couldn’t get the boat going back to the line,” Spithill said. “It’s a bit of a minefield out there, especially down the start box, and we just couldn’t get the boat to accelerate.”