THE TENSION MOUNTS
The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers burst back into action on the first day of June with all the America’s Cup teams, bar Artemis Racing, in action on the Great Sound.
Catching up with the previous day’s race schedule, postponed due to light winds, in the first race of the afternoon (Round Robin 2, Race 4), SoftBank Team Japan gained a much needed victory as they overcame fellow strugglers Groupama Team France.
In light winds, the Japanese team made the better start, increasing their lead when their French opponents suffered a slight nosedive early on in the run up to mark 1.
Helmed by Dean Barker, SoftBank Team Japan managed to stay up on their foils in the light winds for longer periods than the French and maintained a healthy lead throughout the first race of the afternoon.
With the light winds in mind, America’s Cup Race Management (ACRM) took the decision to shorten the racecourse which meant that a victory for the Japanese team, rarely looking in doubt, was confirmed sooner than perhaps expected, as they crossed the revised finish line over five minutes ahead of Groupama Team France.
“Ultimately it was a good day for us,” said SoftBank Team Japan’s helmsman Dean Barker, whose team also suffered a defeat against ORACLE TEAM USA leaving them on three points in the standings, a point ahead of bottom-placed Groupama Team France.
“In the first race we did a fantastic job and to get that win was great. We also led in the second race against ORACLE TEAM USA but we made a bad decision at the fifth gate and that let them in, we just made the wrong decision.
“It was a shame not to win both races but today was an important day and it is good to gain that point buffer, but our progression is far from assured.”
Land Rover BAR’s first outing in race 5 proved a forgettable one for Sir Ben Ainslie’s team, as they were soundly beaten by the impressive Emirates Team New Zealand.
Having taken a welcome win over Artemis Racing on Tuesday, the British team were unable to build on the momentum of what had been only their second victory in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers. They were overtaken by their rivals in the lead to mark 1 and, from that point, were unable to close the gap to the Kiwis.
Things went from bad to worse for the Brits and, while jibing on leg two, they came off of their foils, touching down into the water and from that point there was to be no comeback.
In contrast, Emirates Team New Zealand were problem-free, sailing off into the distance with their lead reaching a massive six minutes and 25 seconds on the fourth leg, a full lap ahead of their British opponents.
With Land Rover BAR still out on the racecourse, Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finish line, leaving Sir Ben Ainslie to concede defeat over the radio to the umpires, confirming that his team were retiring from the race. In the post-race press conference, Sir Ben said that, to the best of his knowledge, that was the very first time he had retired from a race of his own volition.
“We were really happy with our racing today,” said Kiwi helmsman Peter Burling, whose team remained in second place in the standings, now on six points, assuring their progression into the the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoff Semi-Finals.
“The light winds made things difficult and meant a lot of effort was needed but the guys did a great job.
“It was also good to have the opportunity to race in a different condition and that allows us to keep learning about our boat.”
ORACLE TEAM USA once again showed their pedigree in race 6, as they denied SoftBank Team Japan a second win on the day, beating the Japanese team by 32 seconds.
The Defenders of the ‘Auld Mug’ had to do it the hard way however, after being handed a penalty in the pre-start sequence for not entering the entry box in time, allowing their opponents to take a healthy lead which they maintained for the first four gates.
However, despite the initial setback, ORACLE TEAM USA remained in pursuit of SoftBank Team Japan, cutting the deficit on every passing leg.
The pressure finally told at gate 5 as the American team not only cut the lead completely but also passed their rivals, building to a 35 second lead in the closing stages.
It was an advantage they did not relinquish, crossing the finish line 32 seconds ahead of SoftBank Team Japan as they maintained their position at the top of the standings, moving on to seven points.
Despite already having their passage through to the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoff Semi-Finals assured as the Defenders of the ‘Auld Mug’, ORACLE TEAM USA helmsman Jimmy Spithill reiterated his desire to win these qualifying stages with a possible valuable point on offer to take into the 35th America’s Cup Match presented by Louis Vuitton.
“In difficult conditions, the guys sailed really well and we took another victory,” said Spithill.
“That bonus point on offer is key and we are definitely going for it. It is a big advantage to have it and so we will being going all out to win the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers.”
The final race of the day, race 7, proved the closest encounter with Land Rover BAR claiming a very slender victory over Groupama Team France.
Having suffered defeat to Emirates Team New Zealand in race 5, Sir Ben Ainslie’s team were handed an early advantage, as the French team were handed a penalty in the pre-start sequence.
However, with light winds remaining over the racecourse, victory never looked assured for Land Rover BAR and the lead changed hands multiple times throughout the race.
However, there was real drama as the teams headed for the finish line neck and neck. In the end it was the Brits who ultimately prevailed, crossing the finish-line narrowly ahead of their rivals to claim a victory which takes them on to five points, ensuring their progression into the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoff Semi-Finals.
“It has been a tough day all round and we struggled in the light-wind setup,” said Land Rover BAR helmsman Sir Ben Ainslie.
“We suffered a technical issue with the systems controlling our daggerboard against New Zealand but the guys did brilliantly to fix the issue ahead of the second race with Groupama Team France.
“We managed to hang in against Franck (Cammas) in that race and won by the smallest of margins.
“It is a relief to have got through to the next stage because that is the first goal for all the teams competing here.
“I’m very happy to be through but I’m also very mindful that there is a lot for us to improve on.
“There is still a long way for us to go and so unfortunately there will be no party for us tonight.”
While Land Rover BAR have secured their progression through to the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoff Semi-Finals, Groupama Team France in contrast, remain precariously on a knife edge, needing to win both of their remaining Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers races to stand a chance of progression.
“There is definitely a lot of pressure on us,” conceded Franck Cammas, Groupama Team France helmsman.
“Things are looking very tough but we are still alive and will do the best we can.
“We will make it through? I’m not sure but we will keep fighting and so we will see.”
Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers Round Robin 2 race results
Race 4: SoftBank Team Japan beat Groupama Team France (Groupama team France DNF)
Race 5: Emirates Team New Zealand beat Land Rover BAR (Land Rover BAR retired)
Race 6: ORACLE TEAM USA beat SoftBank Team Japan by 32 seconds
Race 7: Land Rover BAR beat Groupama Team France by 23 seconds