It’s time. Let the racing, and the thrills and spills, begin – The Royal Gazette | Bermuda News, Business, Sports, Events, & Community

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It’s time. Let the racing, and the thrills and spills, begin

Bermuda's wait for the greatest race on water is finally over.

It's been a day longer than expected, but I'm sure it will be more than worth it when the qualifying stages get started this afternoon.

I've no doubt we've got a fascinating weekend of racing ahead and confident the Bermudian public will create a very special atmosphere at the Village here in Dockyard.

As for the racing, four teams have really caught my eye: Oracle Team USA, the defender, Artemis Racing, SoftBank Team Japan and Emirates Team New Zealand.

For me they were the top performers in practice and are probably all feeling pretty good about themselves right now.

Very little separates them at the moment and whichever team improves the most between now and the end of the event will probably go on and lift the “Auld Mug”.

The real surprise for me, though, has been Land Rover BAR, who have not shown to be up there with those other teams.

Ben Ainslie and his guys are really going to have to pick up their game before the semi-finals — yes, I'm assuming they make it through to the semi-finals.

I'm sure they will be working extremely hard to do that.

People will point to the fact that Ben steered his team to victory in the World Series, earning two points for the qualifying series, and wonder what's gone wrong since. But you have to remember that they're racing in the America's Cup Class yachts now, whereas before they were in the one-design AC45s — that can be a huge difference.

The World Series boats didn't foil upwind and some of the techniques the top boats are using — like sailing at a more ride height, which is harder to do — are becoming increasingly pronounced.

BAR's form is still a little hard to understand but for whatever reason they just don't seem to have the straight-line speed, particularly upwind.

In some people's eyes, Artemis are the favourites based on their finishes in practice and they're certainly the form team.

The Swedes, more so than most, are really flying a lot higher in the water than the rest of the fleet, and if you compare them with Groupama Team France, for instance, the difference is really graphic.

As for Team Japan, they may be a first-time team, but I certainly don't consider them to be a dark horse.

I always felt they had the potential to be a contender.

There's no doubt Dean Barker, the skipper, has an incentive to correct what went wrong last time around [Barker, then skippering Team Zealand, surrendered an 8-1 lead to Oracle in San Francisco in 2013].

From a personal perspective, he's really looking to make amends and they've been quietly going about their business, and are getting better and better.

They actually passed Artemis the other day in practice and I think they will continue to improve throughout the event.

Dean obviously took a lot of flak four years ago and that's the nature of the sport.

But when you're the helmsman, you've got to take the rough and the smooth.

If you're not prepared to take a bit of public criticism, then you shouldn't be in that position. Dean knows that and those painful memories will no doubt be fuelling his motivation.

Then you've got Oracle, who may be the defender but I can't see them holding too much back in the qualifiers.

Don't forget, if Oracle is the winning team from the qualifiers they go into the match with a one-point advantage and that could be key.

Jimmy Spithill and Oracle will be looking to start strong; there's no doubt about that. These early races aren't the endgame, though, and there's going to be a lot of ups and downs, thrills and spills, over the next month.

Let the racing begin!

Sir Russell Coutts, chief executive of the America's Cup Event Authority and a five-times winner of the America's Cup, was talking to Stephen Wright

Groupama Team France sail during a practice session this week (Photograph by Ricardo Pinto/ACEA via AP)

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Published May 27, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 27, 2017 at 1:10 am)

It’s time. Let the racing, and the thrills and spills, begin

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