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America's Cup: Race Reports - Day 3 - a look at how American Magic was able to come back from 5th

by America's Cup Media 17 Sep 2023 12:22 PDT 14-17 September 2023
Race Day 3 - AC40 - America's Cup Preliminary Regatta - Vilanova - September 17, 2023 © America's Cup Media

Match-Race Final: - With NYYC American topping the final series standings after a simply stunning day where they took their chances, front-ran like demons and sailed incredibly smoothly, it was all-on for the Match race Grand Final against Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis had been the team to beat all regatta. Their speed and execution of manoeuvres was widely viewed as the blueprint for AC40 sailing and in foiling conditions, these two outstanding syndicates of the 37th America’s Cup would have been hard to split.

Unfortunately, with the seconds ticking down on the start, the wind shut down and first Emirates Team New Zealand splashed down to displacement, quickly followed by NYYC American Magic. Indeed, the Kiwis struggled even to start correctly, copping a number of penalties but as both boats headed upwind, the battle was against the clock. With a ten minute time-limit to reach the first gate and with the crews desperately trying every trick to try and coax their boat up on the foils, speeds dropped to around 5-7 knots and the flow just wouldn’t stick. The only option for the Race Committee was to abandon the Match Race Grand Final and thereby award the first Preliminary Regatta of the 37th America’s Cup to New York Yacht Club American Magic.

Fleet Race 3 – Life comes down to a few moments. Sport comes down to execution and with podium places up for grabs, the chance of making this afternoon’s Match Race Grand Final is in each team’s hands with all to play for. With an east-south-easterly breeze of 10-12 knots, the Race Committee initiated Course 6, calling for a six-leg course and dialled into the start sequence bang on time. Huge importance was placed on the midfield to make a statement in the opening race and off the line, NYYC American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand started at the starboard end of the line and came off with pace to establish an early order.

Overnight leader Orient Express Racing Team opted for a port tack start, ducked the fleet and hit the right boundary. Initially though the advantage was with Tom Slingsby and Paul Goodison on Magic up the middle of the course whilst Emirates Team New Zealand tacked off and played the right boundary. As the two front-runners converged for the first time, Goodison slammed a tack on the face of the Kiwis who calmly dialled away immediately to port tack and back out to the boundary. On the next cross, the crucial moment of the race happened. Peter Burling in the starboard helm on Te Kakahi closed the gap with great pace on starboard tack and when Goodison came back across, to repeat the slam of before, the Kiwis got beneath the Americans, dialled in their high mode and forced the Americans away.

Crucially, at that moment, and with the high mode engaged the Kiwis squeezed up on to the layline to the port windward marker buoy and whilst NYYC American Magic were forced to do two more tacks to round the starboard marker buoy, the Kiwis were off and building an insurmountable lead. Alinghi Red Bull Racing, who had sailed a super-solid beat, rounded in second to chase the Kiwis off the port marker but all eyes were on the downwind speed of NYYC American Magic to see if they could close the gap.

Down the run, the Kiwis just kept it smooth and after gybing on the left boundary, came across to cover the Americans but with a lead out at 140 metres, the best front-runners in the Cup just kept on extending. An unremarkable second beat where the Kiwis maintained a watching cover over the fleet as American Magic opted for the middle early after the port buoy rounding at the leeward gate, saw Emirates Team New Zealand again extend.

Behind, the big battle was between Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Alinghi Red Bull Racing who had a thrilling battle behind the front two boats. The second downwind leg saw the wind drop a knot or two and suddenly it was the teams that could adapt their mode and trim to the conditions that benefitted. At the second leeward gate, a brilliant tight gybe around the mark saw the Swiss stay ahead of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli but by the top of the second beat, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli was in touch and on their transom. After a rounding at the starboard gate, at the midway point, Emirates Team New Zealand were in a league of their own, stretching away relentlessly and headed up the final beat on leg five again with a loose cover on Magic but crucially with the ability to sail their own race. Rounding the final mark with a massive lead, the Kiwis made no mistake and flew down the final run to take a dominant first win on the final day. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli eked ahead of Alinghi Red Bull Racing on the final beat and held down the run. The points are getting close for those top two spots.

Fleet Race 4 – Easy to tell the tale of this race as being won at the start and whilst that may be true, it belies the sheer brilliance of a remarkable race executed by Tom Slingsby and Paul Goodison on NYYC American Magic.

With the fleet all bunched up at the starboard end of the start line, at the lead back in it was all about time-on-distance and finding a gap on a very crowded start line. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli broke early to the pin end, whilst NYYC American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand came in at pace mid-line with the Americans judging it to perfection and forcing the Kiwis off to windward.

Alinghi Red Bull Racing had started just to windward of the middle line gaggle and held a commanding starboard tack position. Nathan Outteridge was forced to duck the stern of the Swiss as they came back on port tack and quickly the Kiwis were finding no easy lanes and turbulent airflow. A slam-dunk tack on their face by Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli again pushed the Kiwis off to the right of the course and suddenly they were behind Orient Express Racing Team and struggling.

The crucial second half of the beat, saw the Americans extend into a handy lead where they could dictate their destiny. The fleet settled with Alinghi Red Bull Racing in second enjoying another big tussle with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli but this time determined to execute and stay ahead.

At the windward mark, five boats rounded the starboard gate at pace and it was a magnificent sight as the AC40s headed out to the left boundary (looking down the course) before a fast gybe and back to the middle of the course. NYYC American Magic were smoothness personified, simply making no mistakes and over the next two legs it was all about consistency through the manoeuvres and just keeping a watching brief on the fleet. Tacks were smooth, there was no panic onboard and suddenly we saw the might of the Americans when they got ahead. Easy front-runners, they looked imperious and by the final windward mark had extended into an enormous lead that was never going to be closed.

The big battle behind on the final beat was again between the Swiss and the Italians but Maxime Bachelin and Arnaud Psarofaghis proved beyond doubt that they have serious talent, keeping ahead and deploying match-race style tactics relentlessly covering the Italians.

Another huge battle ensued behind with Emirates Team New Zealand desperate to get past Quentin Delapierre and Kevin Peponnet on Orient Express Racing Team and in the final throws of the last beat, were forced to duck the French on port but crucially, with their super-high mode deployed, eked around the starboard windward gate, hit the left-hand boundary downwind and squeezed ahead.

Every point matters in this series but what this race proved was that passing lanes are almost non-existent and it’s all about boat positioning in key, crucial moments. USA took the win by a distance, Alinghi Red Bull Racing secured a brilliant second, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in third and Emirates Team New Zealand in fourth. All to play for in the final fleet race.

Fleet Race 5 – All action in the starting box area for Race 5 and for Alinghi Red Bull Racing it was a huge disappointment to have a hydraulic issue that precluded them from starting. Luna Rossa gained a boundary penalty in the countdown as they, Orient Express and INEOS Britannia all opted for a port tack start and set up at the port end of the line.

Spotting this, Emirates Team New Zealand reached down the line on starboard tack, high on their foils in clear air, and put serious pressure on the port tackers to keep clear. Meanwhile American Magic came in at the windward starboard end of the line, also with clear air to start and then tacked across with the port tackers to take the right-hand boundary. The Kiwis stayed left, and flew out to the boundary and when the fleet came together, it was clear that they had established an important lead that gave them control of the race. With the breeze dropping, it was all about minimising manoeuvres and the fleet criss-crossed the course.

Short-tacking was suicide. By the top mark, Emirates Team New Zealand had only executed four tacks as they elected the starboard marker to round whilst USA came in fast on the port marker and it looked very much like that would be that. The fleet headed off downwind and it was vanilla stuff but everything changed on the final gybe to the starboard layline with Emirates Team New Zealand getting it all wrong on the transition through a gybe from port to starboard, splashing down and opening the door for the fleet to pass.

Tom Slingsby and Paul Goodison took every advantage and seized a lead that they would just relentlessly build from there. Emirates Team New Zealand got foiling again and now the chase was on to secure their position in the Match-Race final.

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