The 36th match for the America’s Cup remains just that, a match. Defender Team New Zealand and Italian challenger Luna Rossa won one race each on the second day of racing Friday at Auckland to be tied at 2-2 in the best-of-13 race series.
America’s Cup matches, over 170 years, haven’t typically been close but this contest seems likely to remain so as long as the wind stays light and starts remain hugely influential.
Luna Rossa won the start in the first race Friday and took the race by 37 seconds; Team New Zealand took the start in the second race and won by 63 seconds.
All four races in the series so far has been won by the team with the advantage of port entry at the start. From that position, the teams have been able to take a controlling position off the start line, create an early lead and defend it.
The wind fluctuated between eight and 10 knots on the race course Friday but there were no significant shifts which could allow the trailing boat to overtake. Without a passing lane, the team behind had to go searching for a boost and that often played into the hands of the leader.
Luna Rossa sailed a flawless first race and extended on the upwind legs to win decisively. Team New Zealand gained a slight advantage off the line in the second race and looked much stronger with its nose in front.
It was helped by a major blunder by the Italians near the end of the third leg when Luna Rossa almost sat down after a poorly executed gybe. New Zealand’s nine-second lead at the top mark turned to 34 seconds at the bottom and extended at every subsequent mark.
One thing is evident so far. Neither team has a significant speed advantage in the light winds and as long as those conditions continue — as they are expected to do so over the weekend — the starts and the early lead are likely to be decisive.
“In this light air, the gas of the lead boat is such a big impact,” Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill said. “I’m still not convinced it’s just the entry that’s doing it.
“We’ve just got to go back and have a bit of a look at it. It’s the first time in a long time we’ve had these two boats together in the lighter range and again both boats proved they could win races.”
Luna Rossa had the favored port entry to the start box in the first race and used it well. Team New Zealand started at the pin end with Luna Rossa above it to windward as the boats crossed the line side by side.
The Italians took the Kiwis out to the left boundary in a drag race, edging ahead on the starboard tack just enough to tack on Team New Zealand’s lee bow. It was a risky move but pulled off superbly and it decided the race.
”It’s very, very hard because the situation can change in two or three seconds,” Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni said. “From being strong to being weak is a split of a second.
“If you hang in there and hang too much, then it’s a big loss.”
Luna Rossa won from the move and defended its lead superbly to round the first mark 10 seconds ahead. Though New Zealand looked quick downwind, the Italians extended their lead to 13 seconds at the second gate.
They then sailed a perfect second upwind leg to lead by 27 seconds at the third gate, putting the result beyond doubt. Team New Zealand gained on the next downwind but Luna Rossa stretched upwind to lead by 38 seconds at the final gate.
“I think we just sailed a clean race,” Bruni said. “We had our plan and we executed well at the start.”
New Zealand took advantage of the port entry in the second race to gain a stronger position before the start. Luna Rossa got too close to New Zealand’s race boat Te Rehutai in the pre-start tussle and New Zealand crossed the line faster.
Unable to live on New Zealand’s hip, Luna Rossa had to tack away. When the boats approached on the first tack, New Zealand still held the advantage and was able to tack on top of the Italians.
At the first gate, New Zealand led by only nine seconds and the boats split. New Zealand gained on the first downwind but Luna Rossa’s error came when it was slow to get a board down gybing near the mark and lost speed.
“That was a good race for us,” Team New Zealand flight manager Blair Tuke said. “We got off the start line just a little bit better than the race before and just managed to get the jump on them before the boundary.
“I think our boat was going really well even in the first race when we just couldn’t manage to get clear and get much fresh air. It means a lot when you don’t have the wind shadows and you’re free to look up the course and pick the shifts.”
Two more races are scheduled for Saturday and each ensuing day until a winner of the world’s oldest sporting trophy is determined.
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