The 35th America’s Cup regatta entered the second phase today with the first races in Round Robin 2 of the Qualification Round.
In three more race days, on Saturday, the first team will be eliminated from the regatta.
Defending America’s Cup Champion Oracle Team USA are on course for their objective to win the Qualifiers and take a point advantage into the Match, however, they will still have to win seven races in the first to seven series to win the America’s Cup for the third successive time.
After having no racing yesterday, Oracle Team USA opened their Round Robin 2 account in convincing fashion with a win over Groupama Team France, who against the top team looked like the French of old.
The wind today was expected to flick between 10-16 kts over the 90 minute period of racing but was a little less than that – not getting above 13kts.
The direction of the wind from the NW meant that the course was in a new orientation from that used for the first three days of the regatta. A slightly different configuration meant that the boats only sailed half the final downwind run before turning and heading for the finish line off the America’s Cup Village.
The first match between Emirates Team NZ and Artemis Racing was a re-run of their encounter on Day 3.
The first incident arose at Mark 2, where the Kiwis appealed twice to the umpires, getting a green flag (no penalty) response from the Umpires.
After avoiding the Swedish crew, Emirates Team New Zealand had their rudders break free of the water, resulting in an immediate loss of about 600-700kg of downward force from the foils and the Kiwis immediately went into a spectacular nosedive, dropping 17 secs on Artemis.
Then the Kiwis started sailing very hard and aggressively pulling back the lead on the Swedes, and managed to trap them into a penalty just before Mark 5, with the penalty being signalled on Artemis as they rounded the mark.
The Swedish team didn’t bother to take the penalty and just sailed out the rest of the final leg without really foiling – and finished 90 secs back.
The second match of the day between USA and FRA was a procession. The only question being as to which of the Jekyll and Hyde French team would show up. It was the old Groupama Team France appeared, with the French looking uncompetitive again. Oracle Team USA had the misfortune to have an issue with her wingsail, to which they were able to effect a work-around and keep racing. France finished almost two minutes in arrears.
Artemis Racing made a second appearance for the day – against Land Rover BAR. After four straight losses, most would have picked the Swedish team to have taken a reasonably easy win against the Brits, who admitted the day before that they upwind speed problems.
Ben Ainslie, as expected won the start and then confounded the pundits to lead for the rest of the race with the Swedish team taking a second loss 30 seconds in arrears.
There was no apparent reason as to why the Brits had won, and the Swedes had lost.
If nothing else the outcome confirmed that the boats are a lot closer in performance that many fans would believe, and in the case of Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand the results are achieved by smart, hard and consistent sailing.
Artemis Racing still seemed to be keen to push the limits in an intersection with another boat, and while they caused the Kiwis grief in the first instance, it cost them the race in another.
The Swedes are not lucky. In a close call situation, the decision invariably seems to go against them, which must be hugely frustrating. They sit on two points and should be on four.
Softbank Team Japan was the only team not to race today and spent the day in the shed, rather than testing on the water.
Four points would seem to be the minimum to get to the next stage of the regatta.
Oracle Team USA can’t sail in the Playoffs.
That leaves Emirates Team New Zealand as the top challenger and one who looks sharper and more confident with every outing. Clearly, the hard racing practice is lifting their game on a daily basis, and the team builds its confidence and self-belief. If this form and rate of progress continues, they will be a formidable opponent indeed come the America’s Cup Match.
Their immediate hurdles will be to maintain their win rate and to reverse the first round result against Oracle Team USA, for psychological reasons more so than the point.
By carrying forward two bonus points from the America’s Cup World Series, Land Rover BAR has also probably qualified for the Playoffs.
At the bottom of the table, three teams are on two points.
Artemis Racing has sailed seven races so far and has three left from which she must get two wins. Crunch day for the Swedes will occur on Friday when they have two races – against USA and Softbank Team Japan.
Softbank Team Japan has sailed only five races and has five left in the regatta of which Barker must win two – which looks very achievable.
Groupama has sailed six races, with four left. The French are more than capable of causing and upset or two – and if they are on song, then they will be a semi-finalist with Artemis being the most likely team to be ousted if the French do indeed win their two additional points.
The key focus for the Brits will be to continue to win races and put their poor form prior to today, behind them. They are an erratic team which needs to become consistent if they are to go beyond the Semi-Finals.
by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ