New Zealand look like the team to beat
Emirates Team New Zealand broke through the next great barrier in sailing as they cruised to victory over Groupama Team France in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers this afternoon.
New Zealand spent 100 per cent of the race “flying” across the water, with that mark long considered the holy grail of this style of America’s Cup Class boat.
More importantly in the context of the 35th America’s Cup, the win took New Zealand to the top of the Qualifier standings after Oracle Team USA lost to Artemis Racing.
“It was a really clean race, we’re really excited to be pushing forward,” Peter Burling, the New Zealand helmsman, said.
For Artemis the win, coupled with France’s loss, secured their spot in the Challenger Play-offs and could not have come at a better time. The Swedish team got off to a flying start and a mistake-free race saw them hold off Oracle comfortably.
Tom Slingsby, the Oracle tactician, summed up his team’s day: “There were just no overtaking lines.”
Nathan Outteridge, the Artemis skipper, said his team’s timing at the start had been “spot on” and it highlighted what the Swedish team, who have struggled after being among many people’s favourites before the start of the Qualifiers, can achieve.
“I was really happy with that start, and we sailed clean all the way around,” Outteridge said.
New Zealand came within a whisker of breaking the 100 per cent barrier in the first race of the day against SoftBank Team Japan. The judges, somewhat harshly, ruled that they managed “only” 99.6 per cent after New Zealand splashed down just as they crossed the finish line.
Still, that was the only blemish on a race that began with Burling getting his side off to a flying start as they crossed the line doing more than 30 knots. For only the second time in the Qualifiers, SoftBank found themselves trailing as the teams raced to the first mark.
SoftBank never recovered and spent the rest of the race chasing New Zealand around the course. It is a position that most of the teams have found themselves in over the past few days.
“We put together a really nice race,” Burling said immediately afterwards. “I’m not sure what the 0.4 per cent was to be honest.”
Dean Barker, the SoftBank skipper, has a reputation for getting his team off to a fast start, this afternoon, however, he found himself behind twice.
After chasing New Zealand in his first race of the day, he found himself watching as Outteridge and Artemis left SoftBank trailing in their wake in the last race of the day. As with the first race SoftBank could only chase their opponents to the finish line.
Not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things. The French defeat means that no matter what they do tomorrow they cannot progress. Bottom on two points and one adrift of Team Japan, even if they were to beat Artemis tomorrow and SoftBank lose to Land Rover BAR they could only finish level on two points.
In that event the tie is decided by the results of the Louis Vuitton World Series, and Team France finished bottom in that too.
The World Series results could yet decide who finishes top of the Qualifiers. Oracle now trail New Zealand by a point. The two teams face each other in tomorrow’s first race. Should Oracle win they will finish top by virtue of their World Series performance.
Much is riding on the result. A win for Oracle would give them a point advantage to start the America’s Cup Match. A win for New Zealand would give them the advantage, should they advance beyond the semi-finals.