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America's Cup Replay - Kiwis get wake up call in in Bermuda Finale - Day 8.

by Richard Gladwell 4 Jun 2018 02:16 PDT 4 June 2018
Emirates Team NZ passes astern of Oracle Team USA - Round Robin2, America's Cup Qualifier - Day 8, June 3, 2017 (ADT) © Richard Gladwell

Kiwi fans had an awful deja-vu experience during today's America's Cup Qualifier Series Finale on Bermuda's Great Sound.

They had seen it all before in San Francisco in September 2013 - a wound that was re-opened today with surgical precision by Oracle Team USA's skipper, Jimmy Spithill, who did to Peter Burling what he had done to Dean Barker almost four years before.

The New Zealanders' day got off to a bad start in the starting box after the breeze dropped markedly as the start time approached. Spithill got control of the start from leeward and then proceeded to clean out the Kiwis, getting underneath them and putting them into a position where they had to keep clear. In the end, Emirates Team NZ was jammed in the windward corner of the box and appeared to have started early however the official call was that they had not kept clear of Oracle Team USA.

One of the tricks that seem to be employed in the pre-start is to stop the boat by deliberate submarining - effective pulling on the handbrake. It does kill speed, but is probably the lesser consequence than being forced over the line at the start or similar and penalised.

Oracle Team USA took off for the first mark, with a well-timed time on distance start hitting the line at full pace taking off to the first mark, on what is the fastest leg of the course with a very handy lead.

The Kiwis meanwhile sat up to windward and could only wave Spithill goodbye.

In the past, and against other competitors the Kiwis have been able to grind down their opposition with some fine sailing, good speed and sound placement on the course.

They set off in pursuit down the first run, and while they didn't make gains - they didn't lose anything either, rounding where they started about 100 metres in arrears.

Around the bottom mark, the Kiwis did a neat gybe and rounding, again not losing any advantage and looking to go up the right-hand side of the course which has always looked to yield a good dividend in much of the racing that we have seen so far.

When there has been passing upwind in the previous races from this wind direction, it has usually been the boat in the right that has made the gain.

The difficulty for most being that to get to the right you have to line up from the left-hand side of the course, to avoid losing time in the gybe. For the Kiwis with their cycling power and two 100% 'dry sailing' races under their belt yesterday, this isn't such an issue.

Oracle crossed to cover, and the Kiwis with better taking and some help from the right cut 20 metres out of Oracle's lead and looked set to nibble away at it for the rest of the beat, and then giving the coup d'gras when they came in with starboard rights.

Burling crossed in front of Spithill about 600 metres short of the top mark but then lost it again with a port tack approach and a slow tack on top of Spithill at the top - which was quickly stretched out to 100metres.

Maybe they would have been better to hold on and take the other gate without the tack than engaging with Spithill in a close quarters game that he would always win.

After rounding the bottom mark for the last time, Spithill elected not to cover most of the way up the beat and let the Kiwis sail their own race. Here the Kiwis' tacking did not look crisp with the bottom end boat speed dropping more than expected in the tacks and with Burling and his crew paying the price each tack.

Around 600 metres short of the windward mark the New Zealanders did another unforced error, sailing outside the right-hand boundary line and copping a penalty. And copped a second penalty after they got a wind shift which meant they had not dropped back the requisite two boat lengths quickly enough.

Three penalties for the day is three penalties too many at this level.

The margin between the two went from 15secs at Mark 4 rounding the next mark 30 seconds behind Oracle.

Oracle Team USA was gone at the stage, and the bonus point for the America's Cup Match went to the Defender.

The Kiwis had died by their own hand. They seemed to have a slight speed advantage, were probably the better tacking, but may have had the wrong foils on for the lightening breeze - a factor that has been the cause of many a surprise downfall by the top boats in their series.

In second of three Media Conferences, Jimmy Spithill was critical of the way they had sailed their boat and their crew organisation. From the off the boat audio he thought the Kiwis suffered from not having a regular tactician, as Oracle Team USA does in Tom Slingsby.

Over the next two weeks he said Oracle intend to make plenty of changes to the boat and that a team of a dozen boat builders had flown in from the Core Builders Composites facility in Warkworth near Auckland and were already working 24x7 shifts on the America's Cup Defender.

Quite what warrants that sort of intense and substantial boatbuilding effort remains to be seen.

At the Media Conference following the conclusion of the racing, Peter Burling announced that they had chosen Land Rover BAR as their opponent in the Semi-Finals.

His other option was Dean Barker, Emirates Team New Zealand's skipper for 2003, 2007 and 2013, and backup helmsman in 2000.

While Land Rover BAR and their skipper have been erratic over the series, in a way, they are probably the better option for the Kiwis.

Ainslie and Spithill are the most aggressive starters in Bermuda. Ainslie is a former World Match Racing champion to add to his Olympic laurels.

A tickle up from Ainslie in the pre-start of the Semi-Finals could be just what the Kiwis need.

But maybe they will have to put the fenders out, given the Brit's reputation for boarding their opponent when the pre-start combat gets a little too close.

The first Semi-Final is tomorrow, Sunday.

Official Report:

The wait is over, and a decision has been made! Emirates Team New Zealand have decided to take on Land Rover BAR as their opposition in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs semi-finals, which start tomorrow (Sunday).

At the conclusion of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers on Saturday, Emirates Team New Zealand finished second in the final standings, one point behind eventual winners ORACLE TEAM USA.

ORACLE TEAM USA won the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers and, with that victory, go into the America's Cup Match, presented by Louis Vuitton with a valuable point already banked.

However, with ORACLE TEAM USA's place in the America's Cup Match, presented by Louis Vuitton, already assured as the Defenders of the 'Auld Mug', Emirates Team New Zealand were handed the opportunity to select their opposition in the next stage after finishing as the next highest seeded team from the final Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers standings.

Faced with the opportunity of taking on Artemis Racing, SoftBank Team Japan or Land Rover BAR, Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling finally ended the anticipation by revealing his answer at the final press conference of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers.

"We have sat down as a team and decided we would like to pick Land Rover BAR," said Peter Burling, who also took the opportunity to pass on the condolences of Emirates Team New Zealand to the family of New Zealand native Mary Elizabeth McKee, who passed away in Bermuda on Thursday night.

Turning back to his team's choice of Land Rover BAR, Burling explained that, "We believe with the forecasts over the coming week that it represents our best chance of progressing through."

In response, Land Rover BAR helmsman Sir Ben Ainslie, whose team finished third in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers standings on six points, is prepared for the challenge ahead.

"It is going to be a close race, but to win the America's Cup you have to beat all the teams," said Ainslie.

"Emirates Team New Zealand have certainly proved through this qualifying round to be sailing really well. They are very fast and so for us it will be a real battle.

"However, we are up for it and looking forward to it."

Emirates Team New Zealand's decision to face Land Rover BAR means the remaining two teams to have progressed from the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers, SoftBank Team Japan and Artemis Racing will face off in the other Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs semi-final.

"We've done a lot of racing against Artemis Racing over the last 18 months and we've had some great battles," said SoftBank Team Japan helmsman Dean Barker, whose side finished in fifth place with three points in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers.

"We know they are a very strong team, I'm sure the racing is going to be very close and it will be interesting all the way through," said Barker.

Their opponents Artemis Racing head into the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs in good form, with a final day Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers victory over Groupama Team France leaving them in fourth position on five points in the final standings.

"We are excited to be here," said Artemis Racing's helmsman Nathan Outteridge.

"We know that to go and beat ORACLE TEAM USA (in the America's Cup Match, presented by Louis Vuitton) we now have to beat SoftBank Team Japan and Emirates Team New Zealand.

"We are up for the challenge and excited to go and do that. We've beaten them (SoftBank Team Japan) twice in the qualifying races and that gives the team some confidence moving forward."

Both of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs semi-finals will be decided by a first to five points race format, with the winners of each Semi-Final then facing each other in the Finals of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs.

The eventual winner of that stage of the competition will then become the official Challenger to ORACLE TEAM USA for the 35th America's Cup.

Meanwhile, after concluding the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers as winners, topping the table with nine points following back-to-back wins over Emirates Team New Zealand and Land Rover BAR on Saturday, ORACLE TEAM USA will take a crucial point advantage into the America's Cup Match, presented by Louis Vuitton.

With a two week break from race action ahead, helmsman Jimmy Spithill and his team will continue to develop their boat and be ready to face the eventual winner of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs.

"That point could be critically important," said Spithill following today's racing. "The guys in the shore team work almost 24 hour shifts to make sure our boat is always prepared and to see that as sailors is incredibly motivating.

"That gets us all hungry and makes us want to reward the guys on shore. "I don't think we have been consistent enough throughout the qualifying stage and so we will all be working hard to get the best out of what is available to us.

"In these next two weeks we will look at every component of our systems. We can't afford to sit back.

"We need to be faster to win this America's Cup. There is a lot left for the taking and we will be making all the steps to make sure we are more efficient in every way."

Saturday not only saw the conclusion of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers but also the conclusion of Groupama Team France's involvement in the 35th America's Cup after they failed to progress through to the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs.

A final day defeat to Artemis Racing confirmed their position at the bottom of the standings but helmsman Franck Cammas believes the experience from this campaign will stand them in good stead for a possible future America's Cup appearance.

"This campaign saw us take two good wins (over Land Rover BAR and Artemis Racing) and that will give us good momentum to continue to the next America's Cup," said the French helmsman in his last 35th America's Cup press conference.

"I hope the next America's Cup keeps the same format and same boats. With us already having our base, those things being the same will make it easier for our team to continue and perform at the next America's Cup."

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