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Team New Zealand’s World Series Win Sets the Bar

Read as you will into the results of the Prada America’s Cup World Series Auckland regatta, but it’s only a tease of what’s to come and how far some teams have to go to match the New Zealand defense.

December 22, 2020
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Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

Race Day 3

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli won three races at the ACWS Auckland. Carlo Borlenghi/America’s Cup

“Everyone’s going to get better, so we have to keep our heads down and keep working.”

This is the concluding thought of American Magic skipper, Terry Hutchinson, after the New York YC wrapped up the Prada America’s Cup World Series Auckland, finishing second to Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis were right on form—as everyone expected—to win five races over three days. American Magic, however, went 4-2 in the series, attributing both losses to mechanical issues and boathandling slipups that twice cost them race leads. They were polished and fast, but far from perfect, as were Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. Still, the Kiwis are quick and the challengers now know where the benchmark sits.

While these top-three teams battled for the top spot on the final of three days with compelling and close racing, it was Ineos Team UK—with a goose egg in the win column— drawing the most unwanted attention as they struggled with mechanical issues at the outset, and continued to be dogged with the reality that their beloved Britannia is in fact slow in light air and not particularly maneuverable. At the moment. The challenge for them now is weigh time on the water or drastic boat modifications.

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While the British squad did show flashes of speed in a straight line, their wide-span foil wings appear to be not helping them exit tacks or jibes efficiently, and perhaps, says Sailing World contributor Peter Isler, there’s something lacking in the sail plan that’s not allowing them to properly power the boat through turns and take off. With the narrow racecourse of the World Series and the level of tactical engagement displayed thus far, it’s obvious straight speed alone isn’t enough to advance to the Cup Match next March, so Ineos certainly has the most work ahead of them.

Picking up on Day 3, the first pairing featuring Luna Rossa and Ineos Team UK, in winds near the bottom of the range (8 to 12 knots), both teams kept their distance in the pre-start with starboard helmsman Jimmy Spithill in control to weather as they quickly reached the left-side boundary. Once Ineos tacked toward the center of the course, the Italians were there to cover and put an early end to the race, eventually finishing two legs ahead. As the breeze dropped, so too did the Brits—off their foils.

Patriot

Race Day 3

American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson said he was happy with the performance of Patriot across the wind range. Carlo Borlenghi/America’s Cup

The match of the day would be next: American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand. Patriot helmsman Dean Barker had already stuck one to his rivals on the red and silver-striped AC75 at the outset of the regatta and with another win, the regatta would go to the New York YC’s squad.

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In 10 knots of breeze, they too both kept to conservative time-and-distance approaches, with Patriot making a dashing for the starboard end and Te Rehutai going for the pin. Unlike the previous race, the boundary wasn’t in play when the two came together, so the Americans set up control with a mid-course leebow tack, forcing the New Zealanders to tack away for clear air. With more wind featured on the right side of the course, American Magic extended unchallenged to lead at the top gate by 12 seconds.

The Kiwis ate into their lead on the run, however, and when it looked as if Cup fans would be treated to a nail-biter, the American’s flubbed a tack at the top of the beat, coughed up the lead and ultimately the race.


RELATED: American Squad Works Its Magic In Auckland

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Without much of respite, the Americans were right back into it for the third race of the day—this time with Ineos Team UK. The Brits picked up an early-entry starting penalty, but it didn’t matter as the Americans would go on to start clean and lead wire to wire.

From then, American Magic’s sailors watched the final race from the sidelines as Emirates Team New Zealand faced its Italian Challenger of Record. In a bizarre twist to the series, there was talk of a lottery draw for an overall winner should the Italians beat the Kiwis and set up a three-way tie atop scoreboard, but thankfully the race committee didn’t have to go there, as the New Zealanders would eventually put this final race in their win column.

Still, it was the most riveting race of the series, providing a hint of what will come as teams come to grips with their crafts and push modifications over the next few weeks. The co-helmsmen of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli—Spithill and Francesco Bruni (on the port-side helm)—pushed Team New Zealand deep into the bottom port corner of the starting box before turning to burn toward the starting line with a commanding lead. The Kiwis did themselves no favor by later pinching through the first weather gate and allowing the Italians to extend their lead to more than 800 meters. But then the Italians came crashing down off their foils and it became a game of take-offs and VMG angles. With both seemingly stuck in displacement mode, Emirates Team New Zealand was first to take flight and zipped right past the Italians, practically standing still. Emirates Team New Zealand returned the favor with flubbed tack of their own, and just like that, the race was back on—with a shortened course ahead of them.

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Eighteen seconds separated the two boats through the final gate before they split sides down the run, but the speed and maneuverability of the Kiwis was too much for the Italians to turn the tables. Sixteen seconds was the final delta, and the World Series trophy went to the home team, who must now train in isolation as the Challengers dig in for their own long fight, which begins January 15 with the Prada Cup’s opening match.

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