Umpiring blunder leaves Artemis feeling blue
A day after their see-saw battle set a new standard for the 35th America's Cup, Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand will do it all again today on the Great Sound.
The pair produced the best race of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers yesterday afternoon in a contest that included two penalties, ten lead changes and an umpire's admission afterwards that the ruling that ended the contest was wrong.
The two teams get the second half of the Qualifiers under way this afternoon separated only by the point that New Zealand picked up in fortunate fashion.
On a day of upsets, drama and controversy, the Swedes were penalised at the final mark of an intriguing contest against Team New Zealand after being adjudged not to have given their opponents enough room to manoeuvre.
Artemis were flying for home by the time they realised they were under a penalty, and Nathan Outteridge, the Artemis skipper, was still not happy with the on-water ruling more than an hour after the fact. It turned out he had good cause.
In a statement, the America's Cup Race Management group said that in hindsight the decision to penalise Artemis was not the right one.
“We have had a discussion, we have looked at other evidence, information and data, and I think if we were to go back in time and make that call, we would green that call [give them the green light] and not penalise Artemis,” said Richard Slater, ACRM's chief umpire. That admission was of little comfort to Outteridge and his team, who were on the verge of picking up a valuable point. As it is, they are locked in a three-way tie at the bottom on two points, alongside Groupama Team France and SoftBank Team Japan.
“We gave them enough room to make the gybe and were a bit shocked when the blue light came on,” Outteridge said. “I don't know what the umpires made their decision based on.”
It was the second penalty that Artemis incurred yesterday. After boxing in New Zealand at the start, Artemis crossed the line a fraction of a second too soon and, having raced to the first mark, dropped back to allow New Zealand to go ahead.
It was the first of ten lead changes throughout a race that was nip-and-tuck right until the teams, who reached 40 knots at times, headed to the final gate. With Artemis on the outside, and Emirates taking the inside tack, the Swedish team were penalised for not giving their opponents enough room around the turn.
“We were just turning the boat as hard as we could and I think we were pretty lucky not to end up on our side,” Peter Burling, the New Zealand helmsman, said. “These boats, when you are coming in at 40 knots, you need a little more room than that.”
The umpires initially agreed with Burling's assessment of the situation. That they changed their minds does little for Artemis because the result stands, leaving Burling and his team second in the table on four points.
If yesterday's second race provided the drama, the upset came at the start, as Groupama Team France, long considered favourites not to progress beyond the Qualifiers, proved that their win over Artemis was no fluke, picking up another victory, this time over Land Rover BAR.
Franck Cammas and his team fought back from a slow start and made the most of two mistakes from Sir Ben Ainslie, the most serious of which — when going upwind at gate five — handed the French a lead they did not lose.
In the end, BAR finished some 53 seconds adrift and have now lost four of their five races. If not for the bonus points accrued during the World Series, BAR would be adrift at the bottom of the table.
“Clearly, we are not fast enough upwind in certain conditions and we have to improve that,” Ainslie said. “That's the nature of the America's Cup, it's the nature of sport. We are in a fight with some other teams to avoid this final elimination spot and we have to work incredibly hard to keep ourselves in the competition.”
Cammas did not have it all his own way yesterday; Dean Barker made sure of that. The New Zealander, who has made fast starts his hallmark, got his SoftBank Team Japan side off to another one and never looked back.
Going ten knots quicker than the French at the start, SoftBank eventually won by a healthy 2min 34sec.
Team Japan's win in the final race has made things tight at the bottom of the table with themselves, Artemis and Team France. There is not much to chose between those at the top, and the day's big winners may well have been Oracle Team USA; even though they did not race. They now have a two-point cushion over Ainslie and BAR, and are a point ahead of Team New Zealand.