It is impossible to exaggerate the importance and significance of the 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 sport.
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.
Current: 0.2 knots @ 163
Winner Emirates Team New Zealand – 0:31
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.
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 sec
onds, 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.