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A tale of two jibs, two touchdowns and two points

by Mark Jardine 14 Mar 23:06 PDT 10-17 March 2021
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Emirates Team New Zealand get underway in Race 8 of the 36th America's Cup match. © America's Cup Media

The drama and pressure in Auckland went off the scale today with intrigue and twists at every turn.

Going into race seven, North Sails President Kenny Read was the first to make the call on the race commentary that Luna Rossa was carrying a much bigger jib than Emirates Team New Zealand. The wind was hovering around 10-12 knots, and this difference was explained brilliantly by INEOS TEAM UK grinder David 'Freddie' Carr, who was in the helicopter for expert insight: the J1.5 Luna Rossa were carrying was for sub-10 knots, whereas the Kiwis smaller J3 is a 10 knot+ sail. Freddie was spot-on saying that getting this right could make a couple of knots of boat speed difference.

The pre-start was fascinating, with both boats gybing into their final approach, but Luna Rossa kept both their foils down to reduce the speed, giving them options going into the line. Emirates Team New Zealand had too much speed to burn, whereas Jimmy Spithill went high of the line, built up speed, and used this to slingshot past the Kiwis at the start gun - superb tactics by Spithill to completely outwit Peter Burling and take the early advantage.

In a manoeuvre reminiscent of race one, but with the roles reversed, Burling went for a desperate luff and called for a penalty, but it was never going to stick, and the Italian team were away.

After some nip and tuck racing going into Leg 3, both teams rounded the same mark, but the Kiwis tacked straight away into clear air. With the smaller jib they were faster than the Italians and the decisive move of the race came when Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli was forced to tack to leeward of Emirates Team New Zealand and the Kiwis simply rolled over the Italian boat. A 10 second deficit at the leeward gate was turned into a 19 second lead going into Leg 4.

A big windshift to the left made the race very processional, with the Kiwis gybing at the final top mark to blast downwind on starboard nearly all the way to the finish line, but they had this race wrapped up much earlier. A 58 second win put the pressure right back on the challengers who would be ruing their jib call.

Race eight had it all with the spectators and fans on the edge of their seats.

A tight start saw Emirates Team New Zealand forced to tack away and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli taking the early advantage in a softening breeze. Luna Rossa had once again gone for the bigger jib and this time it looked like the right call as they sailed into a confident lead.

On Leg 2, with Luna Rossa seemingly having a jib trim problem, the Kiwis were closing fast and looked poised to take the lead. In a move driven by pure instinct, Peter Burling chose to gybe close to the Italian boat's stern to avoid being forced left on the racetrack. In the 49er this would have been exactly the right move, keeping control of their race, but with the AC75s boats being so much faster than the wind, Emirates Team New Zealand sailed straight through the wing wash of the Italian boat and fell off the foils, wallowing in light winds as Jimmy Spithill, Francesco Bruni and the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team simply sailed away into the distance, taking a 2-kilometre lead. The Kiwis eventually took off again, rounding the leeward mark 4 minutes and 8 seconds behind.

It was all looking so good for Luna Rossa until the final tack of Leg 3 resulted in a touchdown. The orchestration of all the elements needs to be pitch perfect in light winds and something went amiss. It was their turn to wallow, crossing over the boundaries three times trying to get their steed to rise, each time picking up penalties which were easily removed as the Kiwis shredded the Italian lead.

With the smaller jib Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and Glenn Ashby were piloting Emirates Team New Zealand's AC75 'Te Rehutai' on a knife edge. All the experience from Burling's International Moth and Ashby's A Class Catamaran World Championship wins was put to the test. The entire home nation held their breath through every manoeuvre as that 4-minute deficit was turned into a 4-minute lead.

The race was shortened to finish at the end of Leg 5 and the Kiwis walked the tightrope, held their nerve, and took their second win of the day to finally break the deadlock and take a 5-3 lead in the 36th America's Cup match.

David 'Freddie' Carr summed it up when asked what the Italian team must have felt when they fluffed their tack: "It totally sucks."

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