The final day of racing in the Qualifier Round is set to take place today on the Great Sound in Bermuda.
Four races are scheduled to take place, however the key point is not in who makes the cut for the Play-offs, but in whether the Defender Oracle Team USA will take a one point advantage into the America’s Cup Match starting on June 17.
The other point of interest is a psychological one – whether the top Challenger at this stage, Emirates Team New Zealand can beat the Defender and their 2013 nemesis, Oracle Team USA.
The two met in the Race 5 of Round 1 of the Qualifiers back on May 27, and will meet in the last race of Round Robin 2.
Key point of interest will be how much Emirates Team New Zealand have improved since that encounter and with nine races under their belt – and whether they have picked up the vital hard racing that they lacked at the start of the Series.
The rise of Emirates Team New Zealand has been one of the features of the Qualifier, with the team noticeably improving with every race sailed.
There has not been any of the one step forwards, one step sideways, or even backward of the other teams. On the water the Kiwis look slick, and their ice-cool helmsmen Peter Burling drives in with a very casual air of confidence, almost like he is out of a Sunday cruise, rather than flinging an AC50 around the Great Sound at speeds in excess of 40kts.
Oracle Team USA on the other hand are still a very formidable unit despite their greater number of race losses than Emirates Team NZ. Skipper Jimmy Spithill is still the hard driver with nerves of steel and is just relentless in his racing style – whether ahead or behind.
Oracle Team USA have pulled victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat on many occasions, and will pounce on the slightest error by the competitor.
Weather for today’s encounter is a bit of everything, with the Bermudan forecasting 12-17kts winds and regatta organisers expecting 6kts to 20kts with several thunderstorms. Predictwind.com has the breeze at 11-15kts from the SW. However realtime observations from one weather station in Hamilton Bermuda at the top end of the course recorded wind gusts of well over 25kts earlier today, but these have dropped back to record winds averaging 15kts with gusts to 20kts.
Emirates Team New Zealand’s weather guru, Roger Badham explains the weather in the video below.
That uncertainty has raised questions as to points if Round Robin 2 is called off – if all racing cannot be completed by 5.00pm local time. Well that was the case until a few minutes ago when word flashed around the Media Centre in Bermuda that the teams had all agreed to continue racing past 5.00pm to complete the Qualifier race schedule if required.
After reading the various rules that come into play if the Qualifiers were aborted, clearly pragmatism has carried the day amongst Challenger and Defender and alike.
The bad news is that the America’s Cup does have its own version of Cricket’s Duckworth Lewis system, which is reproduces below.
Despite a 15 minute session with the course statistician, and a further 10 minute briefing with Chief Umpire and ‘Mr racing Rules’ Richard Slater, I still don’t understand how the system works, and as Slater replied in response to a ‘what-if’ question, the rules team at the regatta do not play a lot of attention to possible outcomes and their implications for one team. The practice is to put the facts of the situation through the codified rules process and then take the result produced.
Suffice to say that if Emirates Team New Zealand beat Oracle Team USA today then the Kiwis will have taken the first of a two step process to go into the Match, should they be the Challenger. If they lose to Oracle Team USA, then the Defender take a one point advantage into the Match.
In the first scenario, an Emirates Team New Zealand win means that they have to win the second leg of the double – a win in the Challenger Final. While some may think that is a foregone conclusion – beware of Artemis Racing. They are a very strong team and their win record should be a lot better than the scoreboard indicates.
They will likely be Emirates Team NZ’s opponent in the Challenger Final.
Racing in the Semi-finals begins tomorrow, with Emirates Team New Zealand having the tougher ride of the two as Burling is pitched against his predecessor Dean Barker, now at the helm of Softbank Team Japan. Artemis Racing come up against Land Rover BAR who are currently only in the play-offs by virtue of bonus points accumulated in the America’s Cup World Series, and not emphatic victories over the top teams.
But Ben Ainslie’s and the British team’s ratings will go sky-high if they are able to pull off a win in the final Match of the Day against Oracle Team USA.
The pressure today is very much on the Defender.
by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/NZ