• February 9, 2023

America’s Cup: How Team New Zealand Made a Sprint for the Trophy

Win the start, win the race. In the first six races of the America’s Cup final, this was history for both Team New Zealand and Italian challenger Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

Both teams and most of the experts were expecting an ultra-light streak in the waters off Auckland, New Zealand this month, and when the teams traded wire-to-wire wins for the first few days, that’s exactly what happened. The first team down the line was also the first to reach the goal.

But the first week the race felt very different: It was … boring. No passing. No duels for the lead. No dramatic comebacks.

However, that changed on Monday. Team New Zealand took advantage of the changing winds and the high speed and overtook Luna Rosa in both races to take a 5-3 lead in the final.

The breathtaking turnaround for this year put Team New Zealand in a position to win the trophy if they could claim two more wins on Tuesday. Here’s a look at how the hosts got within range of the biggest sailing award.

The world’s best sailors agree on one thing: the boats – finely tuned, carefully prepared and expertly manned carbon fiber AC75 – are perfectly sailed. And that deprived the event of a drama.

“It’s been the most exciting competition of the last time, with the most boring races,” said Nathan Outteridge, former America’s Cup skipper and Olympic gold medalist.

In recent years it has not been uncommon for a dominant boat to make it to the finals and often win every race when it got there. This year, the combination of strict design rules, high-tech simulators, a compact course and steady winds initially caused an unusual standstill.

This year’s competitors, a new class of monohull hydrofoil boats, are racing around at four times the wind speed at times. The expectation was that at such speeds, errors would tend to increase.

The problem was, no one was doing any.

Especially the wind.

New Zealand won the seventh race by almost a minute, but then fell way behind in race eight after dropping his foils after cutting into Luna Rossa’s slipstream. The Italians took advantage and quickly opened up a big lead before getting into similar trouble themselves.

Luna Rossa sailed into a hole in the wind, dropped her hull into the water, slowed, and then ran off course while trying to rev up. With the kiwis back on the slides, Luna Rossa watched helplessly as the kiwis shout past to turn a four-minute deficit into a four-minute win.

“Two things changed yesterday,” said Ken Read, former helmsman and commentator for the America’s Cup, of Monday’s races. “First, the first big break in the series happened and it was for the Kiwis. There is a bit of luck in every sport and they found it in spades.

“Second, we finally saw the jets that the Kiwis are supposed to have. We have seen sailing speeds upwind that we have never seen in our sport. “

New Zealand’s small, low drag foils and innovative aerodynamic hull are considered the main differentiators for the speed advantage. At one point, Read said, Team New Zealand was practically upwind at 30 knots – nearly 35 mph.

“You can’t,” he said, “in your motorboat with two Mercuries.”

Not so fast.

“New Zealand shows a fast boat, but Luna Rosa shows the maneuvers make them quick,” said Nic Douglass, an Australian sailing commentator.

That said, if a boat arrives up front with a quick start, it can be well positioned to hold back its pursuer – even for the entire race. “When the wind is steady,” said Douglass, “there isn’t enough variation in performance to allow a pass.”

That is what the Italians did in their three wins, and that is what they have to do to stay alive.

That a boat with the slightest advantage at the start can easily defend its lead and win the race is due to several factors unique to this competition, Douglass said, including the underestimated impact of wind disturbances coming from the back of the sails.

“When one plane takes off on a runway, another plane cannot take off for at least a minute because of the disturbed wind,” said Douglass. “This is about disturbed air that we cannot see. These boats cut it like a knife and whirl it around high. “

This can cause major problems for the tugboat. Douglass said if any of the AC75 passes the racing committee’s boat this year, the wind readings that the committee’s fair course records contain will be affected for 30 to 40 seconds. “The boats get caught in these air bubbles,” she said.

Since the boats are four times as fast as the wind, these invisible bubbles are like potholes on the route. And with lighter winds, like in the two races on Monday, these anomalies are amplified.

So the key is to go forward and stay there.

New Zealand skipper Peter Burling won nine world championships and an Olympic gold medal and brought the trophy to New Zealand four years ago. He won’t give it up without a fight.

But maybe that’s exactly what he’s got in his hands now.

Outteridge sees a shift from perfect sailing technique to mental toughness that will make all the difference for the rest of the competition.

“Nobody expected this to be this close,” he said. “The boats don’t change now. It has grown from a design competition to a psychological competition. “

When Burling won the trophy in 2017, it was clear that New Zealand had a faster boat. There was never a do or die moment.

“Pete was never really pressured in the cup game,” he said. “I don’t know how it will turn out this time.”

His counterpart, Jimmy Spithill, faced such a moment in the 2013 Cup. When he took on the American defender, he and his teammates had dropped eight races back to New Zealand in the final in San Francisco Bay.

“They sat at match point for over a week,” said Outteridge. “Jimmy either had to deliver or they would lose.”

That experience, he said, could now pay off. It was better because he was running out of races. And time.

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