America's Cup Column - No.1
The America’s Cup Qualifier Series has so far thrown up a lot of surprises. After the first round robin, Oracle led with only one loss – no surprises there. The only team to beat the defenders where Artemis – one of the pre-event favourites. However the Swedes had struggled overall, with only two wins. All teams showed promise, each winning at least one race in RR1. There was drama too – a collision on the opening day between British team Land Rover BAR and Softbank Team Japan, and a controversial penalty against Artemis in race 14. Emirates Team New Zealand looked like the strongest challenger in Round Robin 1, and kept that up on the opening race in RR2 by taking another win from Artemis. After light winds yesterday brought a holt to racing, four races were scheduled for today on what was supposed to be a lay day.
The first race today was Race 4 of the second Round Robin in the Qualifier series. The weakest challenger at the end of this series is eliminated, so for Artemis, Groupama and Softbank (who all came into today with only two points) today was critical. Groupama Team France and Softbank Team Japan were first up – racing in the lightest winds we have seen so far for competition in the new America’s Cup Class. Groupama were seen as the ‘light wind specialists’ but Dean Barker and the Japanese won the prestart and led all the way around the course which was shortened at the final leeward gate. Softbank were a class ahead of the French – barely ever falling of their foils whilst Groupama struggled after every turn to get back up to speed.
The second race of the day was between Land Rover BAR and Emirates Team New Zealand. The start was all about time-on-distance with both teams coming off pretty even. Ben (GBR) luffed Burling (NZL) several times down the first reach but just lost touch at the first mark. The Kiwis rolled the Brits who splashed down as they did their gybe. ETNZ executed a perfect foiling gybe and by the bottom mark had a huge lead. Burling and crew seemed a league ahead – Ben was clearly getting very fustrated on board as Pete kept calm, collected and led all the way to the finish. BAR retired a leg and a half behind.
Race 6 was between the defenders – Oracle Team USA and Softbank who were looking to make it two from two today. Spithill got caught in a lull before he had even entered the starting box – Dean Barker made an aggressive move and forced a penalty on the Americans for entering late. The Japanese had a fantastic start but by the bottom gate were only 8 seconds ahead. Oracle did what no other team had been able to do so far in the light air and held on when behind. Spithill kept it close and managed a split on the second beat which enabled him to take advantage of a shift, and take the lead. Despite having to check the position of the finish, Oracle took victory from Japan.
The final race of the day was between the French and the British – both looking to make amends from earlier. Ben, obviously wound up from his first race, was aggressive in the pre-start and forced a penalty on Cammas. Both teams struggled in the corners in the light air and stayed close with several lead changes. For British fans, certainly a tense race – especially if, like me, your BT connection had issues! Ian Murray, the Event Director, shortened to 5 legs and Ben and the boys just managed to sneak past and take the win from Groupama.
The scores after today (including World Series points):
Oracle Team USA – 7
Emirates Team New Zealand – 6
Land Rover BAR – 5
Softbank Team Japan – 3
Artemis Racing – 2 (ahead of FRA by virtue of a better World Series ranking)
Groupama Team France – 2
Racing continues tomorrow with a further four races scheduled.