Emirates Team New Zealand strikes again
Having won the 'preliminaries' over the weekend, Emirates Team New Zealand continues to set the pace, leading after the first day of the Cascais AC Match Race Championship, the third component of the first America's Cup World Series competition (after the preliminaries - the fleet racing - and the speed trials).
Following a two-hour postponement due to another unusual period of light and fickle winds in Cascais, the three fleet races got underway at 1600 sailed in light breeze were packed with thrills and spills, the most dramatic of which was a start line collision between the Russell Coutts-driven Oracle Racing boats and the Kiwis. Oracle Racing Coutts finished the three fleet races in sixth place on 13 points, after uncharacteristic moves for Coutts, the four-time Cup winner, the team was twice OCS and also incurred a penalty for the collision.
“We really just didn’t get off the start line today,” said Coutts. “The second start we just lost control and fell into Team New Zealand. The wind shifted and we had our wing and jib in the wrong position. We tried to dip and couldn’t.”
The three fleet races would go to act as the seeding for the ultimate match races, but due to the late start only the top-scoring pair would square up in a match race: Emirates Team New Zealand v Oracle Racing Spithill. In this, Barker, the Kiwi skipper, stormed away off the starting line to lead at the first mark, only to see the American team find a shift on the opposite side of the race course. By the bottom gate, ETNZ was in the lead again, but approaching the halfway point of the race, there was an important cross between the two boats, which resulted in a classic match racing set piece, giving the advantage back to Spithill.
The ping-pong battle continued on the second lap of the course until Emirates Team New Zealand was able to hook into a favourable wind shift and finally shake the Oracle Racing boat for good. The Kiwis ended the afternoon with top points on the day, with Spithill settling for second place.
“The guys on board are doing a fantastic job on crewing,” Barker said. “Yes, you make mistakes and it’s frustrating that you make them… And not that you are afraid, but these boats are very, very, hard on the crew. But there is an improvement since Auckland, we are getting more comfortable in the multihull environment which is an improvement.”
His adversary James Spithill observed: "Everyone questioned whether you would see lead changes, so it was good to see a couple of exchanges,” said Spithill. “It is a very, very difficult race track. It’s a lot of fun, but very challenging.”
The three seeding fleet races were no less exciting than the final match. The Chris Draper-steered Team Korea continues to impress, finishing the day ranked third, while France’s Energy Team with Loick Peyron at the helm is fourth.
"The best bit of the day was our first race where we had two penalties on the first downwind and sailed a really good second downwind to get back into the race,” said Draper. “While the other races were really good, that was probably the highlight of the day.”
The big collision between Coutts and Barker came in the pre-start of the second race, when Cup-legend Coutts tried to box the Emirates team out of the start line. But his move was too aggressive and resulted in a collision and a penalty to the Oracle Racing boat: “It put a lot of pressure on the skin… We’ll have to repair it tonight and be ready for tomorrow,” Barker said.
The three fleet races followed by match racing format continued tomorrow and on Friday and the overall results from these three days forms the seeding for Saturday's match racing finales.
ACWS – Cascais Match Racing Championships Day 1
1. Emirates Team New Zealand/Dean Barker 10 points
2. ORACLE Racing Spithill/James Spithill 9
3. Team Korea/Chris Draper 8
4. Energy Team/Loick Peyron 7
5. Artemis Racing/Terry Hutchinson 6
6. ORACLE Racing Coutts/Russell Coutts 5
7. Aleph/Alain Gautier 4
8. China Team/Mitch Booth 3
9. Green Comm/Vasilij Žbogar 3
(Scoring: 1st = 10 points, 2nd = 9, 3rd = 8, 4th = 7, 5th = 6, 6th = 5, 7th = 4, 8th-9th = 3)
More images from Jesus Renedo/www.sailingstock.com