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The best race of the 36th America's Cup so far

by Mark Jardine 15 Mar 2021 22:13 PDT 10-17 March 2021
America's Cup match day 6 - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Emirates Team New Zealand battle it out in race 9 © ACE / Studio Borlenghi

Day 6 of the 36th America's Cup saw the teams lining up on Course C. This is what everyone has wanted and is known as the sailors' course with gusts and shifts aplenty. With a South Westerly forecast and a Westerly wind on the course it took a little while for Iain Murray and his team to set up, but oh boy was it worth the wait.

A very even start to Race 9 saw both teams lining up in the now familiar Emirates Team New Zealand to the left and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli to the right, with a straight boatspeed fight to the boundary, each team trying to gain vital metres ahead of the first tack.

Initially Emirates Team New Zealand held the advantage, but the Italian team used their high mode to slowly edge up to the Kiwis, eventually forcing them to tack away. First blood Luna Rossa.

At the upwind gate Peter Burling had to duck Luna Rossa and then downwind caught the Italian team on the first cross during the run, forcing them to head up. This was nip and tuck 40 knot racing, with constant lead changes and tactical calls being made with split second timing.

Towards the end of Leg 2, Luna Rossa had retaken the lead and chose to gybe ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand, setting up just to leeward on port with left hand side Italian helmsman Francesco Bruni forcing the Kiwi boat beyond the lay line for the leeward gate, timing their gybe to perfection to come into the leeward mark at top speed and pulling out a 250 metre lead. This was superb aggressive sailing by the now symbiotic relationship of Jimmy Spithill and Francesco.

Emirates Team New Zealand chose to tack away immediately at the mark to gain clear air. It wasn't the cleanest manoeuvre, but it gave them separation from the Italians and we know the Kiwi AC75 can hit the afterburners.

Luna Rossa continued to lead but just couldn't get away from the America's Cup defenders, never more than ten seconds ahead at the gates, and the decisive move came on Leg 5.

After a split at the leeward gate with Luna Rossa ahead by only 3 seconds, Emirates Team New Zealand had the opportunity to sail in clear air. The Italians were edging left while the Kiwis were pushing the right hand side of the course.

Towards the end of the leg, Luna Rossa tacked onto starboard ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand who tacked across to the right again, and within seconds we heard an 'Argh' from Jimmy Spithill on the Italian boat as he saw a windshift to the right give advantage to the Kiwis. After tactical brilliance for four legs of the race, with one decision it was all gone in the blink of an eye.

Emirates Team New Zealand took the lead at the final top mark and was away. The 30 second finish margin unreflective of what was, without doubt, the race of the 36th America's Cup and one for the ages.

Elation for the defenders of the America's Cup as they move onto match point, gutting for the challengers on Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli who had sailed almost flawlessly, but as the affable Francesco Bruni said, "Chin up and we keep fighting".

With the wind shifting wildly and dropping Race Officer Iain Murray abandoned racing for the day. Peter Burling and co. may have one hand on the Auld Mug, but Jimmy Spithill has been in this situation before, only to emerge victorious. The battle for the America's Cup ain't over yet.

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