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America's Cup - Final major Practice Session ends in a wimper

by America's and on 20 May 2017
Oracle Team USA's skipper Jimmy Spithill contemplates pedal power. May 2017 Oracle Team USA media
Ahead of the start of the 35th America’s Cup, just a week away, (Friday May 26th), the final week of practice racing on the Great Sound had everything.

In the final analysis, the six teams only had two full race days out of the five, with light winds restricting sailing. On a third day two teams sailed one race only.

The biggest talking point came on day two (Tuesday) of practice racing which saw the final race of the day, between Land Rover BAR and Emirates Team New Zealand, abandoned following a collision between the two boats in the pre-start, which resulted in both teams sustaining damage to their hulls.

Following the incident, Emirates Team New Zealand sat out the action on the water on Wednesday and Land Rover BAR skipper Sir Ben Ainslie come under fire from his Kiwi counterparts.

“It was a bit of a shame in the last pre-start. We had the leeward end of the line pretty locked down, Ben was quite late and just ran straight into the back of us,” said Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling. “Just unnecessary, a week out from the America’s Cup. We are all here to learn and it’s a shame we have a pretty big dent now in the back of our nice boat.”

However, while accepting responsibility for the collision, Ainslie himself was quick to pour cold water on the incident, putting it down to one of the unfortunate sides of racing.

“We had a crash with Team New Zealand in a pre-start which was really unfortunate and it was my fault as helmsman, I’ve been forward in apologizing about that,” said Ainslie in a live video on Land Rover BAR’s Facebook page today (Friday).

“The first thing I did when we got back to base was to call Grant Dalton (Emirates Team New Zealand CEO) to offer any support we could give, and to be honest they’ve been great.

“We’ve had plenty of conversations, there’s been a lot of effort from both shore crews and thankfully it doesn’t look like Team New Zealand have lost too much development time out on the water.

“It was unfortunate but it happens in racing. It’s part of the game and you move on.”

No Redress rules are currently in place for the regatta to cover such incidents, and as these Practice Sessions are not part of the America's Cup Regattas there was no official sanction taken against Ainslie. However with a tight race schedule and the possibility of days being lost through no or too much wind, organisers will not be keen on seeing race days lost through reckless sailing and skippers not doing everyting they can to avoid contact with their egg-shell delicate AC50's.

Back to the racing itself, and looking at the results the week proved particularly positive for SoftBank Team Japan, Oracle Team USA, Emirates Team New Zealand and Artemis Racing, for different reasons.

SoftBank Team Japan enjoyed a promising week, claiming the most victories overall, taking five race wins against Oracle Team USA, Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France, having competed in all three days of scheduled racing.

'We've gotten a good feel for the opposition, everyone has their final parts installed and are learning how to use them.” said skipper Dean Barker.

“They're all in that final fine tuning process ahead of starting racing next Friday and everyone is making gains around the course. You're starting to see that final pecking order, though there's still a lot that can change before next week.

'I think we're right at the top with the leaders, though it's very, very close. It's going to come down to a genuine boat race.”

It was also a strong week for Oracle Team USA who managed to win three races from two days of competing, with a lack of wind curtailing any further chance of competing on day three (Wednesday).

'I think we've put in more hours than anyone over the last couple of days and we've had some really good racing,' said Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill after day two of practice racing on Tuesday.

'We're learning a lot about different race situations now. All the teams are racing hard and we're trying to learn as much as we can from that. So the past two days have been very valuable, even with limited racing.'

Despite the setback of their dramatic crash on Tuesday, Emirates Team New Zealand still managed to win both of their only other two races, after not competing on day one (Monday) and sitting out of racing on Wednesday with repairs being made to their boat following the incident with Land Rover BAR. The Kiwi team will be sailing again on Saturday.

Another team who finished with a 100 percent win record from their finished races was Artemis Racing, who won their only race of the week against Groupama Team France on practice race day two (Tuesday).

The Swedish team sat out of the racing on the first day and were unable to race again after Tuesday as light winds meant conditions did not reach the required 6-24 knots of windspeed (measured between eight and three minutes before the race start time), resulting in a curtailed race program.

“I’m happy with how we are racing but it has been incredibly close. We are currently balancing our time on the water to improve our sailing team skills, with time in the shed to improve the boat’s performance.” Said Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge.

In stark contrast to their other four rivals, Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France endured more difficult weeks.

As well as their well-publicised crash with Emirates Team New Zealand, the British team only managed one race win from their two days of competing on Monday and Tuesday, with that solitary success coming against the French team on day two (Tuesday).

But it was an even tougher week for Groupama Team France who failed to collect a single victory having managed to race on all three scheduled race days.

'We learn things every day, we always learn in all conditions, even when it is tough like that,” said wing trimmer Thierry Fouchier on his team’s final day of racing in light conditions.

“Next time we get the same we will better for sure. If it is breezy historically we are below the others but I guess when it is light the race is more open and gives us more of a chance of winning.'

Meanwhile, looking back on the week as a whole ahead of next week’s highly anticipated start to racing proper, America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) CEO Russell Coutts believes that despite impressive displays from some teams in particular, there is still a lot to be learnt before the competition hots up next week.

“It’s been a pretty interesting week with a collision between Emirates Team New Zealand and Land Rover BAR,” said the five-time America’s Cup winner.

“You’re going to get more of that I think, as the boats get closer and the crews push them harder, it’s a natural thing that will happen.

“I think there were several stand out performances. SoftBank Team Japan have made a big gain but things are changing every week and essentially each time one of the teams bring out new technology or learn new techniques it’s a game changer.

“The learning curve is still pretty steep but the skill that these guys are sailing and racing at has got to be seen to be believed, it’s incredible.”

Team Wins - Practice Session 5
Oracele Team USA 3
Land Rover BAR 1
Softbank Team Japan 5
Emirates Team New Zealand 2
Groupama Team France -
Artemis Racing 1

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