At the America’s Cup World Series in Naples, a competitive fleet of nine AC45 catamarans skippered by some of the world’s best sailors combined with unsettled wind conditions to produce an exciting opening day.
Ben Ainslie’s J.P. Morgan BAR crew hold the early lead in the series. They scored 21 points after placing 3-1 in the two fleet races and lead Dean Barker’s Emirates Team New Zealand crew by one point. The Kiwis finished 1-4.
J.P. Morgan BAR also scored a come-from-behind win in its quarterfinal race of the match racing championship in testing conditions that kept all 45 of the sailors piqued trying to decipher the tricky wind conditions.
'It was one of those days when you want to survive because it would have been easy to pick up some bad results,' said Ainslie, the four-time Olympic Gold medalist who had the British Ambassador to Italy, Christopher Prentice, aboard as a guest racer. 'The wind was so shifty today coming over the headland. That was the biggest challenge.'
Reports from the race course on the Bay of Naples indicated that the wind was shifting from south/southwest to nearly west, an arc of some 35 degrees, and ranged in strength from eight to 12 knots. Barker echoed Ainslie in finding the conditions challenging.
'There was no real rhythm to it today,' said Barker, an America’s Cup and Louis Vuitton Cup champion. 'At times there were big gains to be had on the right side, and other times you could sail yourself into no wind. There were big gains and losses, particularly at the top of the course. I think we managed the course as well as we could today.'
Holding third place with 18 points is Chris Draper’s Luna Rossa Piranha crew. Draper, a world champion in the 49er class, is looking to recapture the lightning in a bottle that saw him win last year’s AC World Series Naples in a thrilling debut performance.
'I would say we had a good day,' said Draper. 'We missed a couple of opportunities in the fleet racing and wound up with a 4-2. We’ll work on that for tomorrow. I didn’t trust my instincts enough when I should have and then tried to make things happen that weren’t there. But it was a good day.'
While the conditions were challenging, so was the race course for some of the new helmsmen in the fleet. Both Tom Slingsby of Oracle Team USA and Roman Hagara of HS Racing were penalized for exceeding the course boundary.
In Slingsby’s case, it meant the difference between winning the first fleet race and placing second.
'We were off to a nice lead in the first race, but being a bit of a rookie in the class I didn’t see one of the boundaries and apparently we just crossed over it,' said Slingsby, the Olympic Gold medalist in the Laser class. 'After that race I told the boys to remind me about the boundaries.'
In today’s match racing action, newcomer HS Racing, led by co-skippers Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher, won the qualifier match in a 'walkover' when opponent China Team was disqualified for failing to start properly.
Two of four quarterfinal matches were also held today. Luna Rossa Piranha defeated Artemis Racing White (Charlie Ekberg) in one match while J.P. Morgan BAR defeated Energy Team (Yann Guichard) in another.
The quarterfinals will conclude tomorrow with HS Racing squaring off against Oracle Team USA Slingsby and Emirates Team New Zealand racing Luna Rossa Swordfish (Francesco Bruni).
'It’s really nice racing here in Napoli,' said Hagara, a double Olympic Gold medalist. 'It’s really good sport and especially for the spectators. It’s unbelievable the amount of people who turned out. I've never seen so many people watching sailing.'
Tomorrow’s racing will be streamed live on YouTube worldwide (subject to territorial rights agreements) beginning at 14:00 local time (CEST).
Download the updated race schedule and results here
America’s Cup World Series Naples Championship Standings: (Provisional, after two of seven scheduled races)
1. J.P. Morgan BAR (Ben Ainslie) – 21 points 2. Emirates Team New Zealand (Dean Barker) – 20 3. Luna Rossa Piranha (Chris Draper) – 18 4. Oracle Team USA (Tom Slingsby) – 16 5. Energy Team (Yann Guichard) – 14 6. Luna Rossa Swordfish (Francesco Bruni) – 14 7. Artemis Racing White (Charlie Ekberg) – 11 8. China Team (Mitch Booth) – 7 9. HS Racing (R. Hagara/H.S. Steinacher) – 7