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Team New Zealand revenge mission gets real

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35th Americas Cup Challenger Playoff Finals (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

It has been four years of hurt for Emirates Team New Zealand, but yesterday they booked their place in the America’s Cup Match, presented by Louis Vuitton, and set up the chance for revenge for their painful loss to Oracle Team USA in San Francisco.

While Oracle celebrated the greatest of all comebacks, as Jimmy Spithill’s crew turned am 8-1 deficit into a 9-8 victory, the whole of New Zealand mourned. They completed a 5-2 victory over Artemis Racing in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Play-offs Finals yesterday to ensure they will challenge Oracle for the 35th America’s Cup, starting on Saturday, and Glenn Ashby, their skipper, who has painful memories of 2013, knows what a tough task it will be, calling the match with Oracle “a battle”.

Ashby said: “We’re only halfway through the marathon. We’re under no illusion whatsoever what we have coming up against us. Today we’ve got to celebrate and, hopefully, there is one to go.”

The subject of San Francisco is still one that regularly gets mentioned among the New Zealand camp, Ashby admitted, but he said that the team were now a tighter unit, having come together after facing going out of business a couple of years ago.

“The lessons that were learnt out of San Francisco have made us a strong team,” Ashby said. “But the team only a couple of years ago was really looking down the barrel of having its doors closed. Emirates Team New Zealand has been involved in the America’s Cup for such a long time and that would have been a tragedy.

“A few people got together and managed to keep the doors open, and the whole team has effectively been rebuilt from the ground up. What’s been able to be created is a much stronger unit. We were a strong team in the last campaign, but I believe we are now a stronger unit than we have ever seen before.”

In truth, this was the battle of giants that this America’s Cup deserved. New Zealand showed that they were the best of the five challengers, with a more cutting-edge design, most notably using bike rather than traditional hand grinders, which has given them a power edge, particularly in light air.

How they recovered from last week’s start-line capsize against Land Rover BAR was also impressive. For a moment it seemed that their whole campaign might be in trouble, but not only have they got back to where they were, they improved.

Ashby dedicated the win yesterday to their shore crew. “The guys have worked fingers to the bone to prepare our boat to sail after our little submarine excursion the other day,” Ashby said.

The one fact that will be nagging New Zealand is that Oracle beat them both times they met in the Qualifiers round.

New Zealand were made to wait for their victory yesterday. Holding a 4-2 overnight lead over Artemis, the first attempt at race seven was abandoned when the wind suddenly dropped and they failed to finish within the 25-minute limit.

There was a light, but steady 7.5 knots at the start, but Peter Burling, the New Zealand helmsman, got the better of Nathan Outteridge, the New Zealand skipper, for the first time in seven races in the race to the first mark. By the time they had rounded the second mark, New Zealand looked to have built an imposing lead.

But as the rain moved in, the wind died out and these monsters of New Age marine engineering were left helpless. By the time the race distance was cut from seven legs to four, the boats were bobbing along at about four knots. When the time ran out, New Zealand were 128 metres ahead, but still nearly one kilometre short of the finishing line.

After a gap of about 90 minutes, the wind had risen and was holding at a steady 7-8 knots when the race finally got under way again. New Zealand held the inside line at the first mark, forcing Artemis wide for a three-second lead. The advantage stretched significantly for the second mark and New Zealand again looked in total command. By the fourth gate, the lead was stretched to 58 seconds. Only a mistake could have stopped New Zealand, but they didn’t make any. The winning margin was a handy 56 seconds.

“We’ve had some really hard racing from an amazing team in Artemis, and that will put us in good shape for the Cup,” Burling said. “That’s why we came to Bermuda; that’s what we are here to do: to bring the Cup back to New Zealand. Nothing has really changed. We feel we have had an incredibly tough road to get here, gone through a lot of adversity with things like the capsize and one or two tough races here and there. It showed today how much quicker we are going and we are super excited to take on Oracle in a week.”

12/06/2017 - Bermuda (BDA) - 35th America's Cup Bermuda 2017 - Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs Finals, Day 3 , Day 3