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America's Cup Rialto: March 10 - Italy creates another page of Cup history

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 10 Mar 20:03 PST 11 March 2021
Luna Rossa leads ETNZ out, but the damage has been done at the start of Race 2- America's Cup - Day 1 - March 10, 2021, Course E © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

America's Cup Challenger, Luna Rossa wrote a new page in Italy's America's Cup history today, scoring the nation's second ever win in America's Cup racing.

Most of the previous Italian Challenges have been of participation rather than victory.

The first win was in 1992 in San Diego, with the Paul Cayard skippered/Raoul Gardini backed Il Moro di Venezia winning the second race, by just a 3 second margin.

The Italian 12 Metre Azzurra got Italy into the Cup in 1983, winning 24 of 49 races sailed in the Challenger Selection Series laying down a marker both for Italy's participation in the America's Cup, and dragging the Italian population to emote over the America's Cup. Then, as now and always, the Italian entries have always epitomized style. Who could forget those beautiful blue 12 metre hulls? However winning is not the Italians forte, with just two wins in a Match from almost 30 years of America's Cup participation.

The significance of the second race win was not lost on Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni. "Honestly that doesn't matter very much to me. We are here for more, and we consider that we have the ability to win more races," he added. "I don't think we want to see this win as our small prize from this Cup."

Asked for his guess as to the reaction back home, Bruni replied "I think the Italians are going crazy. It is amazing to see millions of people waking up the 3.30am to watch the racing on TV for two hours. It is amazing," he repeated.

Just before the Mixed Zone session started a newsflash came through from indicating that there would be an announcement from the Government on reduced COVID levels for Auckland would be reduced by a day, meaning that Course C would come into play for Friday's racing, and certainly for Saturday's racing.

Both Francesco Bruni and Emirates Team New Zealand reacted favourably to the news.

"I am happy that more public can watch the races from very close. It give the race committee more opportunities to set up a nice race course. I am sure they will do an excellent job as they have done. I am curious to see the performance of the boats in the lighter wind. There maybe some surprises", Bruni said.

Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling agreed. "Course C is the brochure course, of the Cup. The atmosphere of Course C, with the people watching from ashore and the boats on the harbour will be very special when it happens," he said.

Both helmsmen dismissed the common view amongst commentators that one boat had an advantage over the other in certain conditions.

"We are trying to get 100% percent from the boat in all conditions," Bruni said. "So far it has been a good surprise, that in this medium wind of today, that there was no a big edge from Team New Zealand. So the race is on!"

"There was a lot of talk about Team New Zealand being 5kts faster - and that is clearly not the case," he added.

"We put our best foot forward and the margins are relatively small," was Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling's response to the same point. "We're just looking forward to getting racing goin in the weekend. We are happy with the way our boat was going today.

A Century of No Passing

The COVID Alert Restrictions have meant that the pandemic is essentially controlling the outcome of the racing. The decision by the Government on advice from Ministry of Health and others to keep Auckland in a Lockdown in the Prada Cup and now America's Cup has triggered decisions above race organisers that Stadium Course C while not be used while the Alert level remain at Level 2 or higher. The outcome of that decision is that racing will only be held on Courses A and E.

Fourteen races have now been sailed on Course A and Course E, and there has not been a single change of leader around a mark in one of those 84 legs - with one exception, when America's Magic's Patriot, capsized in Round Robin 2, allowing Luna Rossa through for the race win.

If racing is held on Courses E or A it is likely that we will be close to racing 100 legs without a lead change around a mark.

History says the races are all over at the start, and certainly after the first or maybe second cross. Despite the best efforts of the top crews there are no passing lanes. Luna Rosa got to within 3 secs on INEOS Team UK in the final leg of the race, but Brits defended downwind, and went on to score their only win of the Final Series.

The racing has all been decided by the start and who is ahead at the first or second cross, on these one-way tracks.

Emirates Team New Zealand's strategy from Bermuda of being in contact by Mark 2, at the start of the first upwind, so they could launch an attack, won't work on the two course areas being used.

The Kiwis got a good start in the first race, with the Italians trying a luff which missed, on Te Rehutai. A little surprisingly, the Kiwis went up just as high as the Italians - without losing boatspeed, and could easily resume their normal course - leaving the Italians to try and speed build from 20kts to 30kts plus. They lost 100 metres in the process. Race over.

The roles were reverse in the second race with Emirates Team New Zealand trying an unorthodox approach of sailing high away from the start line and then turning down to sit to windward of Luna Rossa and get a start advantage, with the favoured right hand side of the course open for them to tack at any stage. Unfortunately the Kiwis slid down a little too much onto Luna Rossa, and had no option to play follow the leader into the start, for which Luna Rossa had got their time on distance calculation right.

When the Kiwis tacked to the right, Luna Rossa responded and went to that side too, and could put in place an easy cover, which they maintained for the duration of the race.

"We fell we were coming into them in the last lap. But it is pretty hard when you give someone that much of a lead. We let them off the hook in the pre-start, and made a couple of mistake on that beat, and they really got ahead," Burling explained in the Mixed Zone.

The New Zealand bookies didn't move their odds too much as a result of the Luna Rossa win and there is still a very good price being offered for an Italian win - which in our humble opinion should be much closer. You can check the options and prices by clicking here

Island influence The course yesterday was on an axis of (358 degrees) - almost due North. The breeze from the start line was coming down the course from between Motuihe Island to the west and Waiheke Island to the east, with Little Barrier clearly visible on the horizon in the gap between the too land masses.

In both races the trailing competitor had a look into the left hand corner of the course, towards Eastern Beach, but the Italians came out of there with nothing to show for their foray in Race 1, and neither did the Kiwis on a similar fishing exercise on the following race.

Downwind, while the two competitors could pick a gate mark to rounds and quite often split, the risk at the top was getting stuck in the wind influence of Motuihe, and it wasn't too long before they gybed out and headed for the fresher, more stable breeze of eastern side of the course, coming across to the bottom gate a lot further down the downwind leg.

The COVID restrictions have had a big effect ashore with the America's Cup "activations" in the Village being closed. So the fans are there just to see the boats dock in and dock out. The big screens are turned off.

The walk back from the media centre around 9.30pm, was a sobering experience.

After the first day of the America's Cup, when each teams' fans should have been celebrating a win, and drowning their sorrows over a loss, the many watering-holes of the America's Cup environs should have been full to gunnels. One was about 75% capacity, and the others 25%, empty or closed completely.

It was a stark contrast to the same scene in the America's Cup World Series were all were packed to their picket fences.

Downtown Auckland is in its death throes thanks to the Lockdowns. The current Alert status is killing what should be a fantastic America's Cup ashore an on the water.

Only the TV ratings will be the big winners.

The simple point is that this Match should never have been started until Auckland reached Alert Level 1, and started on the original racing schedule, with proper time allowed boats to have deep- maintenance to be undertaken as originally intended. Only a week would have been lost, the racing could have been held on the intended Stadium course, and the shore based activities could have continued as planned - with race fans filling the village and its environs well into the evening of each Cup day.

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