ETNZ into the lead
Set up above the fleet with plenty of space to work with, Emirates Team New Zealand rolled out its gennaker and was off at full pace even before the final seconds of the start, crossing the line on foil, rolling over the top of the fleet and leading into Mark 1 with Artemis Racing 8 seconds in their wake. From there, it was an open racetrack and the New Zealanders easily piled on boatlengths.
While they covered the fleet in a patchy southwesterly, the fleet continued to shuffled behind them with Artemis Racing and Softbank Team Japan trading positions as they sniffed out clear air and open lanes. Groupama Sailing Team, in the hunt early on, was unable to keep pace with the fleet and slid to back as they picked up a boundary penalty, leaving the mid-fleet battle to Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing and Oracle Racing Team USA, both of whom had opportunities come and go as the breeze came and went. Oracle made the best of the upwind leg to pull within striking distance of Artemis and SoftBank and by Mark 4 they were sitting comfortably in second, getting enough separation to essentially sail their own race and claim second at the finish, to delight of the hometown crowd. Artemis followed them, followed by Land Rover BAR and SoftBank, and Groupama bringing in the rear more than 5 minutes after Team New Zealand finished its crowed flyby.
It was a good 18-minute tactical race that proved the value of the being able to freely sail to the puffs, and the spectators, both on the water and ashore were treated to at least one contest. But here’s the kicker: it might not count. Because the race was started after the broadcast window of 3 pm it will only be used as a substitute race for Sunday if there’s no racing at the scheduled start time, much like Friday’s last race counting because they did not start Saturday’s on time. It will also count as a double-point race, as will the others. The forecast is good at the moment, so the so-called Super Sunday is now super critical. Confusing, yes, but at the end of the day there have been two good races to show Chicago the excitement of short-course AC racing.