America’s Cup: How Team New Zealand made a sprint for the trophy

Win the start, win the race. For the first six races of the America’s Cup final, it was the story for both Team New Zealand, the holder and its Italian challenger Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

Both teams, and most experts, were expecting an ultratight series in the waters of Auckland, New Zealand, this month, and as the teams traded wire-to-wire victories over the opening days, that was exactly what happened . The first team across the line was also the first team to finish.

But for the first week, the race also felt completely like something else: it was … boring. No going away. No duels for the lead. No dramatic return.

However, that all changed on Monday. Team New Zealand overtook Luna Rosa in both races to take advantage of the fluctuating wind and its sheer speed to take a 5-3 lead in the final.

The amazing – for this year – innings has enabled Team New Zealand to claim the trophy if they can secure two more victories on Tuesday. Here’s a look at how the hosts came within reach of the biggest price of the cruise.

The best sailors in the world agree on one thing: the boats – finely tuned, carefully prepared and knowledgeable AC75 carbon fiber – sail perfectly. And it robbed the event of some drama.

“In recent times, it’s the most interesting competition with the most boring races,” said Nathan Outteridge, the former America’s Cup captain and Olympic gold medalist.

In recent years, it has not been uncommon for a dominant boat to fly into the finals and often wins every race as soon as it gets there. But this year, the combination of strict design rules, high-tech simulators, a compact course and steady winds initially created an unusual deadlock.

This year’s competitors, a new class of monohull hydrofoilers, sometimes tear four times as fast as the wind. The expectation was that errors would be magnified at such speeds.

The problem was that no one made it.

The wind, first.

New Zealand won the seventh race with almost a minute, but then fell far behind in the eighth race after putting down his foils after cutting into Luna Rossa’s wind shadow. The Italians quickly took advantage of a huge lead before finding themselves in similar trouble.

Luna Rossa sailed a hole in the wind and lowered his hull into the water, slowing down to a crawl and then running off the track while trying to get back up quickly. While the Kiwis were on their foil again, Luna Rossa watched helplessly as the Kiwis screamed past to turn a four-minute deficit into a four-minute victory.

“Two things changed yesterday,” said Ken Read, a former helmsman and commentator on the America’s Cup. ‘One, the first major breakthrough in this series, and that was for the Kiwis. In any sport there is a bit of luck and they found it in digs.

‘Secondly, we finally saw the jets that were according to the Kiwis. We have seen the sailing in the wind that has never been seen before in our sport. ”

New Zealand’s small, low-drag films and innovative aerodynamic hull are considered the most important distinctions in its speed advantage. At one point, Read said, Team New Zealand virtually traveled the wind in 30 knots – almost 35 miles per hour.

“You can not do that,” he said, “in your motorboat with two Mercuries.”

Not so fast.

“New Zealand is showing a fast boat, but Luna Rosa is showing that they are fast through the maneuvers,” said Nic Douglass, an Australian sailing commentator.

This means that if one boat is fast ahead, it can be well positioned to keep its pursuer behind – even for the entire race. “If the wind is constant,” Douglass said, “there is not enough difference in performance to make a pass.”

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

That a boat with even the slightest advantage at the start can easily defend its lead and win the race comes down to several factors that are unique to this competition, Douglass said, including the underestimated effects of disturbed winds at the back of the race. sails come.

“When a plane takes off on a runway, another plane cannot take off for at least a minute due to the disturbed wind,” Douglass said. ‘It’s about disturbed air that we can not see. These boats cut it through like a knife and turned it upside down. ‘

This can cause major problems for the tugboat. Douglass said when one of the AC75s passed the race committee’s boat this year, the wind readings the committee recorded to help a fair rate be affected by 30 to 40 seconds. “The boats are trapped in these bubbles of disturbed air,” she said.

While the boats go four times as fast as the wind, these invisible bubbles are like potholes on the track. And in lighter winds, as in Monday’s two races, these deviations are amplified.

Therefore, the key is to get ahead and stay there.

New Zealand captain Peter Burling has won nine world championships and an Olympic gold medal, and he brought home the trophy in New Zealand four years ago. He will not give it up without fighting.

But that may just be what he has in his hands now.

Outteridge sees a shift from perfect sailing technique to mental toughness that makes the rest of the competition different.

“No one expected it to be that close,” he said. “The boats are not changing now. It went from a design competition to a psychological competition. ‘

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

“Pete was never really put under pressure in the Cup match,” he said. “I do not know what it will be like this time.”

His counterpart, Jimmy Spithill, faced such a moment in the 2013 Cup. When he chased the American defender, he and his teammates went to New Zealand in the final round on San Francisco Bay with eight races.

“They sat at the game point for more than a week,” Outteridge said. “Jimmy had to deliver or he lost.”

According to him, the experience may now pay dividends. It was better because he had few races on. And time.

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