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Supreme confidence or a big mistake? It's a fine line…

by Mark Jardine 11 Mar 2021 21:27 PST 10-17 March 2021
America's Cup match day 2 - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli lee-bow tack ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand to take control of race 3 © ACE / Studio Borlenghi

If the momentum wasn't already with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli after their race win to level the score after day one, it certainly is after race three, but things could have been very different.

After a very even start with Emirates Team New Zealand to leeward, the Italians took control with a lee-bow tack near the left boundary to squeeze the Kiwis into a high mode that they clearly weren't comfortable with on their small foils in the lighter winds. Being stuck in dirty air in any boat is bad, but the AC75 is exponential in many ways, including the size and distance of the wind shadow created.

What could have been the key moment of the race was when the Italian team decided not to tack and cover the home team midway up the first upwind leg. The slightest puff or shift in these light conditions could have turned a lead into a deficit, but both Francesco Bruni and Jimmy Spithill had confidence in their call, reducing the number of tacks needed to round the windward mark, and they were away.

With the narrow course, confined by the side boundaries, passing lanes are few and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli stretched their lead to take a comfortable 37 second win.

Francesco Bruni summed it up beautifully when he said, "I think we just sailed a clean race... We took the opportunity for a little stretch at the top mark... From being strong to being weak is the split of a second."

Despite Emirates Team New Zealand being faster both upwind and downwind they sailed nearly 1.5km further during the race. Part of this will have been due to sailing in dirty air, and it's never easy to take the right shifts when you're the boat behind, but it did feel like Luna Rossa has a better 'high mode' upwind, sailing closer to the wind, especially in the light stuff.

The question of who has the faster boat certainly hasn't been answered yet and as Peter Burling said after race three: "It's going to be won by whoever sails the best".

The wind was becoming increasingly patchy for race four and Emirates Team New Zealand briefly fell off the foils in the pre-start jostling. Jimmy Spithill on Luna Rossa contemplated going for the hook, rounding behind the Kiwis and luffing, but decided against it and it was proved to be the right with the New Zealand boat lifting straight back up a moment later. Burling and Ashby stuck to their guns with the leeward position on the line, but this time were much closer, forcing the Italians to tack off.

With clear air Emirates Team New Zealand took control of the race, winning by over a minute to level up the score at 2-2.

It's been another day of steep learning for us as viewers and the teams themselves. Today reminded us of some key match racing facts, with the biggest being that you must win the start. The much-hyped boatspeed differences simply aren't there and Peter Burling was spot on with his comment that this America's Cup is going to be won by whoever sails the best.

In any sport momentum is a powerful thing, and the pendulum has just swung back to Emirates Team New Zealand.

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