Hot, sunny conditions and thousands of fans lining the Portsmouth seafront was the backdrop to Saturday’s crowd-pleasing Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series action, the first day of points scoring races on the Solent at the 2016 event.
The home team, Land Rover BAR, led by skipper Sir Ben Ainslie, recovered from a poor first race result to win the second two contests and complete the day at the top of the leaderboard, much to the delight of the tens of thousands of cheering fans lining the shorefront.
‘We wanted to perform well in front of the home crowd to give them something to cheer for – it’s an extra impetus. We’ve been training hard, preparing thoroughly and the guys are really fired up for it,” said Land Rover BAR skipper Ben Ainslie.
“It was very tight racing in quite light and difficult winds. We got caught out in the first race, we were in a strong position and then got stuck with Japan and both of us sailed ourselves to the back of the fleet from second and third which was really frustrating.
“But I was pleased with the way we regrouped for the final two races. We fought hard and kept going to come away with two wins; and to top the day in such difficult conditions at our home event was a great effort.”
At the start of race one it was Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France who led the pack, Softbank Team Japan in third and Artemis Racing, ORACLE TEAM USA and Emirates Team New Zealand all incurring penalties as they crossed the start line fractions of a second too early. The French team made a tactical decision heading to Gate two that really paid off and quickly built a good lead. The battle behind the French was fierce, with boats making contact as the light conditions tested the crews to the limit, but at the finish line it was Groupama Team France in first, ORACLE TEAM USA recovering to second and Emirates Team New Zealand in third. Behind them, a drag race for fourth between Softbank Team Japan and Land Rover BAR was finally settled in favour of the Japanese on a photo finish, with Artemis Racing bringing up the rear in sixth.
Race two was another penalty-fest at the start, with every team except Groupama Team France incurring penalties for crossing the line before the gun, but the pack quickly caught up with the French team and at the bottom mark the home crowd went wild as Land Rover BAR took the lead. Ben Ainslie’s crew strode into a huge lead, and from that point they put on an America’s Cup racing masterclass, making the best use of the light winds to finally finish first, over a minute ahead of ORACLE TEAM USA, who again fought back from a poor start to finish in second. Behind them, Softbank Team Japan finished third, Groupama Team France in fourth and the two boats with new helmsmen in Portsmouth, Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand crossing the line in fifth and sixth respectively.
The third and final race of the day saw another good start for a French team who were the standout performers on the start line today. Land Rover BAR kept up their race two form, but both ORACLE TEAM USA and Softbank Team Japan again incurred startline penalties and were playing catch up from the start. The Japanese team, under the leadership of Dean Barker, made up ground impressively and were right with Groupama Team France at the halfway point of the race, battling with Land Rover BAR for second as the French inched ahead.
However, an incredible fight back from Ben Ainslie’s British boat saw them overtake the French boat at gate three and then they found themselves stuck into a huge battle with Softbank Team Japan as they sped towards the final leg. Finally it was another win for Land Rover BAR, an impressive second for Groupama Team France, third for Softbank Team Japan, fourth for Emirates Team New Zealand and Artemis Racing and ORACLE TEAM USA in fifth and sixth places in the final race of the day.
Selected quotes from team representatives sailing on Saturday:
Adam Minoprio, Wing Trimmer, Groupama Team France: “Tough conditions today, a lot of light patches and with the sea breezes coming around the Isle of Wight it was tricky conditions out there. However, we’re very happy with our performance today. In all the races today Franck and Thomas (Le Breton, Groupama Team France Tactician) made sure we had really good starts, they worked hard to get us right on the line and I think we were leading at the first mark in all three of the races today. It was a good day for them, wherever we were.
“The level here is world class and even though we’ve obviously made some gains, every other team is also improving. The key is to find those last few percentage gains and make sure we are putting them into action everywhere, not just on the first day of points scoring here in Portsmouth.
“The other pleasing thing about today is that we had to work hard last night on fixing the damage to the boat that we incurred yesterday. We had to lift the boat out last night to work on it and a couple of the shore team worked through the night to fix it, then we had an early start to get the boat back in the water. It was a big distraction, but maybe that’s what we need!”
Dean Barker, skipper, SoftBank Team Japan: “It felt like a bit of a tough day. We were over the line in two of the starts and from there we were battling, we really weren’t error free at any point and I think we have a lot to improve on. We still managed to salvage credible results which I think that was key – in the past we may have let this sort of form drag us down, but here we didn’t. That leaves us still in a position with all to play for tomorrow.
“It was the same for everyone though. We saw yesterday that being strong at mark one is really important here, but even with that you saw a lot of places changing position going downwind. You’d think you were in a good place, but then you could suddenly be vulnerable to other boats closing back in and in the first race we gave up a good position, which was pretty frustrating. Overall though, we gained more than we lost today so it’s not been too bad.”
Paul Campbell-James, tactician, Land Rover BAR: “It was a fantastic day for us. We struggled in the first race but bounced back and to get two bullets in the second and third races was a great result.
“It was quite tricky out there, a real day of snakes and ladders, but generally we were moving forward so we’re pleased with that. It’s an unbelievable event, the amount of people that are here, and to hear the cheers from the shore was absolutely amazing. It gives you that extra bit of pep that helps you pull those sails in a bit harder, and it’s incredible for a sailing event that we can hear support like that.
“The crowd are a big part of it, but also, being the home team, we train here six days a week and it feels like home. That’s helping us, but we also made sure that we were keeping away from other boats, which was the key today.”
Jimmy Spithill, skipper, ORACLE TEAM USA: “It was pretty tough out there, with the conditions and trying to keep clear of the other boats. I thought we sailed better than yesterday, but we still have a way to go. We’ll go back tonight, look at our mistakes and tidy it up.
“It’s difficult to make up ground but the boys kept fighting. We had a tough one in the last race, but it’s all up for grabs tomorrow when it’s double points races, maybe a bit more wind, and it will be great if we can get the boats foiling. But whatever happens we’ll be ready.”
Iain Percy, tactican, Artemis Racing: “It was a terrible day for Artemis Racing. We really didn’t sail as well as we can so we’re disappointed with our performance. We’re frustrated, but fortunately it’s double points tomorrow so it’s still all to play for. A lot of people took some painful lessons today, and we probably took more than our share.
“It is good to be racing in front of such a big crowd, but Britain is a huge sailing nation. I grew up sailing in the 80s here and it was one of the biggest sports in the country. There is just a huge sailing community here and a lot of them came out today and that is great, for all of us.”
Ray Davies, tactician, Emirates Team New Zealand: “It was tough out there, it’s a short course and we were on the big code zero sail the whole time so that puts a lot of pressure on the crew work. I think Land Rover BAR seemed to be more polished than the rest of us on that aspect of racing today and that was the main difference for them.
“One of the keys today was the need to find your own lane because the pack slows you down in these conditions. You keep rolling each other out of gybes and pulling each other back but if you can find your own space and get some clean air there are big gains to be had.”
by America’s Cup