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America's Cup: Kiwis lead, but Italians impress on Day 1

by America's Cup Media/Sail-World 30 Nov 2023 05:11 PST 1 December 2023
Day 1 - Preliminary Regatta - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - November 30, 2023 © America's Cup Media

Emirates Team New Zealand emerged as the top points scorer from the first day of racing, in the second Preliminary Event sailed off Jeddah.

Although the Kiwis, and current America's Cup Champions dominated the first two races, it was Luna Rossa with their talented co-helmsmen, Olympic Gold medalist Ruggero Tita and three times World Optimist Champion, Marco Gradoni who showed their flying transom to the fleet containing the worlds top sailing talent. Tita has made his mark on the international sailing scene for several years, dominating the foiling Nacra 17 - the Olympic mixed multihull. However just four years ago Gradoni was winning his third Optimist World title. Now he is winning races in the America's Cup AC40.

Fleet Race 1 - Bye, Bye Burling

With winds at the bottom end of the range - officially recoded at 7.3kts and then down to 4.5kts 1m 45sec before the start, staying foilborne was always going to be a challenge for the six crews.

Most struggled to get foiling by start time, and American Magic was the worst casualty - being caught off their foils and on the course side of the line. Try as they might the US team could not get the boat foiling and were Disqualified for sailing outside the course boundaries.

Of the other five, the Peter Burling skippered, Emirates Team New Zealand were the only ones to hit the line at speed and took off up the six leg course with the benefit of clean air in the front runner position. The race was theirs to lose provided the Kiwis could maintain foiling - sailing at speeds of the low 20kts, even after the breeze dropped back to 6 kts mid-race.

The Brits continued the form they showed in the final race of the Official Practice, trailing the Kiwis by a slim margin, hitting second place soon after the start, a place they were able to maintain while sailing on a knife-edge. Luna Rossa finished third.

Fleet Race 2 - The 'Kiwi Puff'

A better start for the fleet, but still the Kiwis got away into clear air and began to build a lead of 900 metres at the finish.

That margin flattered the Kiwis who while enjoying a comfortable lead, of 200 metres at Mark 1 over Alinghi Red Bull Racing, with INEOS Britannia a close third.

Those two battled for the minor places for the rest of the racing, with the Brits dropping back to fourth on the second beat to windward, but recovering to regain their regular third place in this procession. USA recovered well to get into the minor placings, but unfortunately came off their foils and went to the back of the fleet, scoring their only point of the day.

From Mark 4 the lead positions did not change, but Emirates Team New Zealand got a "Kiwi puff" midway up the final beat to extend on the rest of the fleet, and then continued to extend to a lead of 900 metres - almost a full leg of the course ahead of the Swiss and third placed British.

Fleet Race 3 - Fantastico Luna Rossa

Emirates Team New Zealand were tellingly the only team to not accept a tow-up from their chase boat to get foiling, pre-start. However for all the Kiwis' self-confidence, it was Luna Rossa's turn to shine, snatching the start and heading up the first leg in clear air - and looking as dominant as the Kiwis had been in the first two races.

The Italians steadily built their lead while others fell behind them.

American Magic was first to go, being again caught to windward of the startline, penalised and then Disqualified for not starting within the three minute period after the start. Emirates Team New Zealand were next to exit, fluffing a gybe well down Leg 4, when in third place but still over 600 metres behind Luna Rossa. The America's Cup champions were unable to recover and dropped back to be fifth and now last - sailing at around 10kts compared to the others hitting the mid-20s, and the Italians were off the clock sailing at 30kts at the top of the course.

At those speeds margins are quickly built, fortunes determined, and reputations ruined.

Although the tension was palpable, the French, Swiss and British stayed balanced and foiling to finish in that order. Luna Rossa completed their foiling masterclass with a 2m 33sec winning margin over Orient Express (FRA), with Alinghi Red Bull Racing third, followed by INEOS Britannia, and Emirates Team New Zealand.

Thanks to their efforts in the first two races the Kiwis topped the overnight leaderboard, with 22pts followed by Luna Rossa on 18pts, with Switzerland and Great Britain, tied on 15pts. Orient Express scored 11pts from the three races sailed.

Another three races will be sailed on Friday, followed by two more on Saturday with the top two going through to the Final. The forecast is for the Northerly breeze to sneak into the double digits, which should make for much tighter racing on the next two days than on Day 1.

Full Replay - Day 1, Races 1-3

From the Mixed Zone - Race Day 1

Includes in speaking order: Andy Maloney (ETNZ) Jason Saunders (Orient Express), Luna Rossa sailor, Bryan Mettraux (Alinghi RBR), Arnaud Psarofagis (Alinghi RBR), Giles Scott (INEOS), Peter Burling (ETNZ), Quentin Delapierre (Orient Express), Ruggero Tita (Luna Rossa), Riley Gibbs (American Magic), Tom Slingsby (American Magic).

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