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America’s Cup 35: For Starters

The America's Cup is about taking risks...let's start by sticking our necks out on some predictions for the tell-all opening races.

May 26, 2017
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America’s Cup 35: For Starters Ricardo Pinto/ACEA

It’s hard to believe the America’s Cup media squad has not pulled out a “Super Saturday” yet (perhaps saving it for the Cup itself), but with racing cancelled on what was supposed to be the opening Friday, due to a high-wind forecast (that at this writing had yet to materialize), this weekend’s racing just got a whole lot more of action crammed into it. Twelve races of 25 minutes in duration are now on the schedule, kicking off with Oracle Team USA entering the starting box with Groupama Team France.

The outcome, to those who’ve followed the unofficial practices races, shouldn’t be a surprise: the defender better win this one handily. What we’ll be looking for is how or whether the implementation of a leg-powered grinder on OTUSA changes their choreography in the maneuvers and whether Groupama can complete all of its turns on foil, something they’ve admittedly been unable to do to thus far. Race commentator and North Sails President, Ken Read, says from what he’s seen thus far, one bad tack is the difference of a quarter of a leg. Stability is king and and Groupama doesn’t have it—yet. OTUSA gets the win.

Next up is Artemis Racing Team and Softbank Team Japan. This is one of the toughest races of the day to call. Artemis Racing has been the talk of the practice races and called out as being the one to watch in Thursday’s opening press conference, but helmsman Nathan Outteridge was quick to deflect any such target said to be on Magic Blue’s hulls. Their focus on two-boat sailing in these waters gives them the leg up, but SoftBank is the sleeper of the initial fast-four (OTUSA, SoftBank, Artemis, and Emirates Team New Zealand. Still, Artemis gets the win, but not by much.

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Race 3 is the debut of Emirates Team New Zealand’s much-hyped, leg-powered machine, and they couldn’t have been paired with a better team to showcase its potential on an open racecourse. They’ll shed Groupama Team France at Mark 1. The Kiwis are fast and stable and while Groupama is considered to be lightning fast at times, their maneuverability is an issue. Nod goes straight to Emirates Team New Zealand.

America's Cup

Last training week for the 35th America’s Cup

Where, oh where will Land Rover BAR find and extra gear before it’s too late? That’s the “zillion dollar” question, says commentator Ken Read. Don’t expect the British to simply roll over and stop developing. Even before their first race, the pressure is on to find a solution to their slows. Ricardo Pinto/ACEA

Is Land Rover BAR’s R1 as a slow as everyone is making it out to be? Shockingly, says Read, yes, so they have to get better and find more speed to beat Artemis Racing Team. “There’s nothing obvious, so maybe it’s a technique thing, but it’s crunch time and they better step it up quick. One thing that’s clear is that if you stop developing you will get dusted. Every team will be leaving the dock every day with new systems, new software, parts and pieces. The top guys have said, ‘if you don’t have the balls to step up and risk it all you shouldn’t have come to play the game.’ Artemis will have full confidence going into this match and will control the race from the start. Here’s the second notch in the win column for Artemis.

The match of the day is Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand, and even Mr. Read has no interest in sticking his neck out on this one. “I’m just as anxious to watch as anyone else because no one is holding anything back at this stage,” he says, “but do they have more experiements to play with, yes. These two are the perfect example. This is the absolute toss-up.” This will, however, be the best opportunity for Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling to stick it to Mr. Spithill. Just because. From somewhere higher up the chain of command, I suspect, will be the directive to go for the jugular, or as Burling stated in the press conference, to “get right into it.” As much as Spithill says they’re playing for every win and every point, they’re in the cat bird seat so they will play solid defense, allowing everyone to see just how maneuverable ETNZ will be in close combat. Emirates Team Zealand comes out on top, to the delight of a nation, to claim their place atop the pecking order alongside Artemis.

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The closer for the opening day of Round Robin 1 is Land Rover BAR and SoftBank Team Japan. This will come down to whether the Brits show up on the day with another gear or not, says Read. But with variables in the wind forecast, which dictates board selection and so many other things, anything can and will happen. “One thing for sure is they need another gear and you never know—they may have tripped over it in the last few days.” This one is SoftBank’s to lose, and Barker won’t let that happen. SoftBank closes out the day with a win as the sun sets and the Goslings flows.

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