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America's Cup: Day 2 - Cliff hanger, Slug fest , sailing brawl - call it what you will

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 1 Dec 2023 04:40 PST 1 December 2023
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Emirates Team New Zealand - Day 2 - Preliminary Regatta - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 1, 2023 © Ian Roman / America's Cup

The second day of racing was a complete contrast to the first, as Jeddah turned on perfect sailing conditions - the likes of which has probably not been seen in America's Cup racing since the Fremantle Doctor.

Perfect conditions were answered by the perfect boat - with the AC40 being the star of the day - surpassing the sailors, great as they may be.

The Red Sea breeze arrived as the boats were heading to the race area for Day 2 of the second Preliminary Regatta of the 37th America's Cup.

The attendant whitecaps blew away any fear that there would be a repeat of the marginal foiling conditions of Day 1.

Instead in the first two races, fans were treated to a back street brawl between the two great America's Cup rivals - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Emirates Team New Zealand - the two teams who had contested the 2021 America's Cup in Auckland. They emerged with a win apiece.

For Race 3 the racing devolved into an all out fist fight between four teams - in a race so close and with so many lead changes that it was hard to keep up, as the teams crisscrossed from start to finish.

The deciding factor on Friday's racing was that Luna Rossa looked to have an advantage upwind, over the Kiwis, who in turn, looked to be able to make their gains downwind, despite some very late tactical moves rounding the windward mark in different races when the Swiss and then the Italians had the Kiwis under the cosh, and Peter Burling and friends yielded both times to the pressure.

The early racing picked up from where Race 3 had ended, with the up and coming Italian crew, co-helmed by Ruggero Tita and 19yr old Marco Gradoni, sailing their first regatta together, coming up against the New Zealand crew - winners of the last two America's Cups.

While the kiwis prevailed in the end - winning two of the three races and finishing second in the other, it was the cut and thrust from the Italian crew that will be the lasting memory of the day. While there are two races to be sailed on Day 3, ahead of the Final. Emirates Team New Zealand already has sufficient points to be assured of one of the two Final Places, with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli looking set to take the other spot, by dint of their 10pt margin over Alinghi Red Bull Racing.

The Italians have the ability to control their destiny, and progress to the Final in Race 5, on Saturday, with their own repêchage in Race 6, if required.

Of course, the other point of intrigue from the first two days, and six races, is which is now the Luna Rossa #1 crew? The regular line up of co-helmsmen Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni, who took the Defender out to 3-3 after three days of racing in the America's Cup are back on testing duties in the LEQ12 in Cagliari, while Tita and Gradoni hog the spotlight, centre-stage in Jeddah. Either way its a great problem for Luna Rossa to have.

Fleet Race 4

American Magic led off the pin end of the start line, in what was generally a clean start, save for the French carrying a penalty for a pre-start infringement, and Alinghi Red Bull Racing being very deep in the starting box at start-time. USA held the lead for the first half of the first beat, before Italy broke through - with both sailing at over 30kts wind. The lead switched between the two until the Kiwis broke up the game to make it a three-way, as they headed for the windward mark at over 30kts upwind. Italy and USA had the same rounding time at the first mark, with the Kiwis 6secs behind. Luna Rossa took over the front-running after half way point, and were never seriously challenged from there on. The Kiwis moved into second place on Leg 3 - but 200 metres behind Luna Ross, as they all hurtled downwind at 40kts plus, with the sweat pouring off the overworked auto-pilots as they kept the AC40s flying as the crews lit the afterburners. The Italians had the race in the bag at the top mark for the final time, but American Magic broke through the Kiwis, who returned the favour as they flew down the final leg. GBR was 4th, SUI 5th and FRA 6th.

Fleet Race 5 -

The penalties flew as the six boat fleet crossed the start line, with GBR and FRA being nailed for being premature starters, and American Magic getting penalised for a prestart infringement, leaving NZL, ITA and SUI to sort out their finishing order. After the Brits sorted out their penalty, Luna Rossa could break free of their turbulence and set off to chase down the Kiwis, pulling them in as the boats reached the halfway point of Leg 1, but in what became the continuing story of the remaining two races, being first was just a flag that you would soon be second - which certainly kept the fans on the edge of their seats. Eventually the Kiwis took back the front running which they held to the finish, with ITA second, SUI third, USA fourth, GBR fifth, GBR sixth and FRA 6th.

Fleet Race 6 -

The final start of the day was incident free, save for a protest by the Brits against the Italians, who were sitting in sixth and last place off the start-line. That transgression probably cost the Italians any real chance of taking the final race for the day. The racing was very close, with the Italians only being 160 metres off the front. Alinghi Red Bull racing put ETNZ under pressure at the top mark, forcing an unusual tactical move by the Kiwis, and helping Luna Rodd into 4th/5th place. The Swiss took over the running on Leg 3 with New Zealand second and USA third. The pressure intensified with the front three being separated by just 2 seconds around Mark 4, Italy now in 4th couldn't make the breakthrough, leaving the Kiwis trying to defend a 5 second lead, as the breeze picked up to 17kts again. On the final run, ETNZ took the right hand side, leaving USA and ITA on the left - where they both seemed to get more pressure and both came flying through on a scrambling Kiwi crew who finished 6sec ahead of USA, 9secs ahead of SUI and just 10 secs ahead of the fast finishing Italians.

Overall Points after Race 6:

  • NZL 49pts
  • ITA 38pts
  • SUI 27pts
  • GBR 22pts
  • USA 16pts
  • FRA 14pts

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