BAR hold on in thrilling finale
Land Rover BAR are a step closer to their stated goal of bringing the America’s Cup home after a thrilling Louis Vuitton World Series event in Portsmouth.
Needing to finish second in the final race of Super Sunday, Sir Ben Ainslie and his team held off a last-ditch challenge from Emirates Team New Zealand to claim their home regatta for the second year running.
It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend for the British team, who won three of the six races, bouncing back from a fifth-placed finish in the first race on Saturday.
Oracle Team USA nearly spoilt the party, winning the final two races yesterday, but in the end it was not enough, and Land Rover’s win also propelled them to the top of the overall rankings in the race to Bermuda for next year’s 35th America’s Cup.
“The teams have all really upped their game in terms of how they are sailing these boats and today you saw some incredible, really close racing,” Ainslie said. “Now we’re up at the top of the leaderboard, but we have a lot of work to do before Bermuda next year.
“In the last race today we were very aware of the fact we only had to finish within one place of Oracle to win the regatta, so that was what we were focused on.
“They were making it as hard as possible, pushing us back into the pack when they could, but to win today is just great, for us and for the 100 or so other people back at the base who are working so hard for our team.”
Jimmy Spithill, the Oracle skipper, said that despite just missing out on winning the regatta his team “should hold their heads up”.
“We won the day, but it just wasn’t enough to win outright,” he said. “In the end it came down to consistency.
“On Saturday BAR had a fifth and we had a sixth and that’s the one point that would have made the difference, but it was still great racing. The guys did a good job of fighting all the way through to the end.
“In the last two races today, we hit Ben [Ainslie] every time we could, but we just couldn’t push him back far enough to let a third boat through. Despite that, the guys should hold their heads up.
“We sailed very, very well today but we have to take our hats off to Ben and congratulate his team.”
The winds yesterday presented the teams with perfect conditions for the AC45F boats to foil, wowing the tens of thousands of people along the Portsmouth shoreline who had come out to cheer on their favourite teams. The loudest cheers were for Land Rover BAR and it was the British team who took the early lead in race one.
Oracle led the chasing pack but the crew on board Land Rover BAR had their feet on the gas and kept building an ever bigger lead, using home water knowledge and the cheers of the crowd to help power them to victory, an ominous sign for the rest of the America’s Cup fleet.
Behind them, Oracle were second, Emirates third, SoftBank Team Japan fourth, Artemis Racing fifth and Groupama Team France sixth.
At the start of race two it was Oracle who seized the early advantage, leading Team Japan and BAR at the first mark. Spithill’s crew were right on top of their game and increased their lead throughout the race, but behind them Team New Zealand, BAR and Team Japan were engaged in an almighty scrap for second, with Artemis Racing and Groupama Team France in fifth and sixth respectively.
Eventually Ainslie and his crew pulled away to come home in second, with Team Japan third, Emirates fourth, Artemis fifth and Team France again in sixth.
Oracle’s win set up the final race as a nail-biting conclusion to the regatta as BAR only needed to finish ahead of their American counterparts to win the overall honours, and to take top spot in the America’s Cup World Series standings.
Oracle again took the lead off the starting line, just ahead of the British team and Emirates Team New Zealand, who were watching their series lead disappear ahead of them.
The tension was palpable as the British and US teams made their way back down the course, but just after the midway point of the race Oracle started to edge further away, leaving Ainslie and his crew to defend their second place from Emirates Team New Zealand.
That second place was all they needed to secure overall victory in the regatta, and it was never really in doubt, finally winning the event by a single point, 82 to 81.
SoftBank Team Japan came home in third in the final race, with Emirates fourth, Team France in fifth, and Artemis sixth.
For Glenn Ashby, the Team New Zealand skipper, there was little disappointment in being knocked off the top of the leaderboard.
Rather, Ashby said the weekend had been more of a learning experience for his team, and said that the pressure was now on BAR and Oracle to maintain their form.
“We had people in four new roles and really only one guy in his original position, so we just had to learn as much as we could,” he said.
“We managed to get the boat around the track reasonably well and, with the amount of training we did before, the guys did a fantastic job.
“We did cough up a couple of points to the Oracle boys and BAR but with the amount of effort and training they’ve put in, they deserve the points at this regatta.
“They sailed extremely well, but now the pressure is off us and on them as leaders. We will fight hard for those couple of points separating us at the next regatta in France as the points are so valuable in Bermuda next year, but really, for us, like I think every team, our main priority is the test boat and what will happen next year.
“If you’re not fast in Bermuda it won’t matter what happened in this regatta.”