Most pivotal day of 36th America’s Cup
Published on March 14th, 2021
Auckland, New Zealand (March 15, 2021) – As most of North America changed their clocks on March 14 for Daylight Saving Time, that lost hour now moves America’s Cup racing deeper into the North American night (8pm PDT/11 pm EDT). If that wasn’t bad enough, the wind apps aren’t delivering great news either.
The fifth day of racing for Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team (ITA) continued the trend of lighter winds that may extend to the end of the 36th Match. Remember those high flying frenetic days when concern about control reduced the maximum wind limit? So much for that…
For the previous six races, spectators needed only to keep their chair warm for the pre-start before refreshing their beverage. Who wins the start wins the race… except today would be different. There are no points at the start so if you slipped away to nibble on the poo-poo platter, you missed passes, speed differences, and splash downs.
The world had been waiting for one of these two teams to take control, and today was the day.
Race 7 – ITA (port entry) vs NZL
It’s well known that a starting advantage leads to victory, so what happens in the first two minutes has a massive influence on the 30 minute 3-lap race… and this start did not disappoint.
With Luna Rossa leading toward the right side boundary, when they gybed, Team New Zealand gybed inside to lead back to the start line. Italy slid up on their weather hip, and then went way high – above the start line – before they bore off hard and readied for a slingshot start.
And like out of a canon, Italy blasted off the line to weather and soon were rolling the Kiwis who attempted a slight luff to no avail. However, while Italy kept close tabs on the defender, the speed numbers indicated something was different in this race.
It was recognized before the start that Italy had their J1 jib, considered the call for below 10 knots while New Zealand was using their J2 jib, a bit smaller and better suited for 10+ knots. With the wind right at this crossover, it was looking like NZL was doing well with their option.
After trailing Italy by 10 seconds after the first lap, New Zealand got a split to the right at the beginning of the second weather leg and that’s all they needed. “We gave ourselves an opportunity on the second beat,” said helm Peter Burling. “We got a 10 degree right hander and executed all the things we have been practicing and talking about.”
The Kiwis came back on starboard with the lead, and after Italy failed to get a leewbow tack to stick, it was over. Not only was this the first pass of the 36th America’s Cup, but the Kiwis didn’t stick around for the photo-op. They had wheels… was it the jib?
The defender opened a 19 second lead at the second weather mark, consistently showing better speeds both upwind and downwind to ultimately have a 900m lead on the final run and a 58 second victory at the finish.
Race 8 – NZL (port entry) vs ITA
With the wind dropped down to 9 knots, both teams stayed with their jib choice, so would Italy have it right this time? As both boats approached the start line on starboard, Italy was to leeward and while they were a click late at the start, New Zealand was not able to live on their hip and quickly tacked away.
Italy had the early lead, but the course was getting patchy, and match racing tactics were replaced with wind seeking to stay in the better pressure. Italy made all the right moves, and with renewed speed, led at the first mark by 16 seconds. But the race was far from over.
The Kiwis came quick on the first run, and when nearly 25m off the stern of Luna Rossa, they rolled into a gybe to get a split… and then fell off the foils. The Italians blasted away, building a 2500m lead by the end of the first downwind leg. But again, the race was far from over.
While New Zealand was soon back up, they were nearly a leg down and praying that misfortune would find their adversary, and when Italy made their final tack to the weather mark, they fell off their foils too. But with a massive lead, they went into low-riding mode to get around the mark with a 4:27 margin and went about getting the boat to pop back up… but it wouldn’t.
New Zealand consumed their deficit like Pac-Man, and all Italy could do was beam reach, acquiring boundary penalty after penalty as they tried to build speed for lift off. When it was all said and done, they had three penalties and were now 2500m and 4:06 behind at the end of the second run.
With the race shortened from 6 to 5 legs, the Kiwis just needed to survive the final upwind leg to the finish. The wind had dropped at times to 7 knots, they had their smaller J2 jib, and every tack was on the verge of a splash down. But they stayed on the skates for a stunning comeback win of 3:55.
America’s Cup Match Scoreboard (wins-losses)
Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL): 5-3
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team (ITA): 3-5
After advancing as the winner of the PRADA Cup, Italian challenger faces the Kiwi defense in the best of 13 series. The 36th America’s Cup Match racing schedule has two races per day planned for March 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, and each day after that until the first team has won seven races.