After nine events in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series in all corners of the globe, the final day of racing in Fukuoka was, shall we say large for the America’s Cup teams.
Four teams could have potentially won on paper, but Land Rover BAR had to falter from their momentum to lose their substantial lead.
After a slow start in the conditions and some concerns as to whether racing would get away, a light but surprisingly steady northerly breeze of 4-6 knots filled in right on time.
Ben Ainslie put all questions on whether he would attack the competition to bed right off the bat luffing Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand, who were locked out of the start at the windward end. Consequently at the first reaching mark Groupama Team France led from SoftBank Team Japan, Artemis Racing, Land Rover BAR, Emirates Team New Zealand, and Oracle Team USA.
Artemis Racing gybe set and were immediately looking good down the run. The breeze was much softer at the bottom of the course and the fleet appeared to concertina as they approached the leeward gate. Artemis Racing rounded with a good lead on Groupama Team France, Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle Team USA, Land Rover BAR and SoftBank Team Japan who had done poorly down the left hand side of the course. All boats except SoftBank Team Japan took the port gate, but none extended as far right as Artemis Racing who continued to capitalise on the shifts, and sailed away to a commanding lead.
In a continuation of the hostilities, Land Rover BAR attempted a slam on Oracle as the American boat crossed behind on port near the top mark. Oracle’s momentum allowed them to squeeze through underneath and up to the Land Rover BAR line and get free.
After a solid race Emirates Team New Zealand cemented a second place ahead of Oracle Team USA and Land Rover BAR who continued their personal battles down the run with a port and starboard protest that was dismissed. SoftBank Team Japan and Groupama Team France brought up the rear having literally reversed positions from the first mark of the race.
The breeze built for the start of the second race of the day to about 8-10 knots, still from the north, and all teams were able to foil in the better puffs.
Oracle Team USA got off to a great start to leeward of Emirates Team New Zealand, and Spithill wasn’t giving an inch luffing the Kiwis to control the first rounding mark. Again, Artemis Racing gybe set, and it almost looked like a replay of Race 4 as the Swedes led to the port gate and headed to the right side of the upwind leg. Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA took the right gate to head to the left hand side of the course, a tactical decision that both teams would come to regret.
At the top of the course Land Rover BAR moved to second, followed by Oracle Team USA, Groupama Team France, Emirates Team New Zealand and SoftBank Team Japan. Oracle Team USA avoided the left gate and sailed in better breeze to make a game of it with Land Rover BAR down the run. They swapped positions twice before Oracle Team USA came out on top to secure a lead rounding the final mark. Just when we thought Spithill had a chance to de-thrown the British, Land Rover BAR sailed in from the left hand side of the course to sail around the outside of Oracle Team USA with pace, luffing them to a standstill before accelerating away to claim second and the overall Louis Vuitton World Series crown.
Artemis Racing claimed two double point race wins to lead the Fukuoka series momentarily. They were followed by the duelling Land Rover BAR and Oracle Team USA, Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama Team France and SoftBank Team Japan.
Even though Land Rover BAR had won the overall series, they didn’t let up on Oracle Team USA in the final race, and Oracle Team USA were penalised for not keeping clear of the leeward Land Rover BAR.
At the reaching mark Groupama Team France, who started well in every race, led team SoftBank Team Japan, Emirates Team New Zealand, Artemis Racing, Land Rover BAR and then Oracle Team USA who cleared their penalty just after the start.
Much to the crowds delight, the boats had enough breeze (approaching twelve knots) to foil downwind at times. No one stayed on their foils as long as the French, so by the bottom mark Groupama Team France Team had a massive lead, then SoftBank Team Japan, Land Rover BAR, Emirates Team New Zealand, Artemis Racing and Oracle Team USA.
All boats dropped their code zeros for the upwind leg except for Emirates Team New Zealand. Oracle Team USA transferred their focus from Land Rover BAR to the Kiwis, claiming a port and starboard penalty midway up the beat in addition to the incorrect sail choice.
The final top mark rounding placings held to the finish; Groupama Team France claimed a win to bring relief to a difficult series with the largest margin of all wins, followed by the locals, SoftBank Team Japan, Land Rover BAR with a result strong enough to claim the Fukuoka event over fourth placed Artemis Racing on a countback, then Oracle Team USA in front of Emirates Team New Zealand who took second and third respectively in the overall Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series.
Great series by Land Rover BAR and they celebrated well after the final race today. As Ben Ainslie said in my interview with him earlier, the Moet was definitely sweeter after winning the overall series and gaining two bonus points leading into the challenger series.
by Nic Douglass