Photography by Sander van der Borsch, Ricardo Pinto, Richard Hodder
Two days after a dramatic capsize on Bermuda’s Great Sound that threatened to end their challenge, Team New Zealand won two out of three races on Thursday (Friday morning AEST) to reach the challenger final and extinguish four-time Olympic champion Ainslie’s hopes of bringing the Cup to Britain.
The ’ dominant performance secured them a 5-2 win in the best-of-nine semi-final.
In the first race, against the British syndicate, Peter Burling made the most of Team New Zealand’s speed advantage, hunting down Land Rover BAR and destroying their early lead with a 31 second victory that took his team out to a 4-1 buffer in the series.
But the ever-combative Ainslie hit back in the second encounter. With the hopes of Great Britain on the line, Land Rover BAR flew off the line then withstood the intense pressure from Burling and the Kiwis for a must-win 20 second victory.
In the deciding race the Kiwis nailed the start, hitting the line at speed, giving themselves an immediate advantage in their efforts to knock out the Brits.
The gap was 13 seconds by the second gate, and then extended further to 35 seconds by the fifth gate as the British challenge began to wither. Sir Ben Ainslie refused to concede defeat, but despite Land Rover BAR’s best efforts, elimination looked inevitable as Peter Burling’s team maintained a healthy lead.
Finally, with the British team looking helplessly up the racecourse, Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finish line, sealing their progression into the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs Finals and confirming Land Rover BAR’s elimination from the 35th America’s Cup.
The Kiwis have now secured right to challenge Oracle Team USA for the Cup and atone for the devastating defeat in San Francisco four years ago.
“Our aim when we arrived was to win the America’s Cup, and we have taken a big step on the road to winning the America’s Cup,” said helmsman, Peter Burling.
As to a preference whether he’d rather face Artemis Racing or SoftBank Team Japan in the final, Burling was noncommittal.
“We don’t mind who we might face in the Finals (Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs Finals),” he added. “It will be a fascinating day tomorrow between Artemis Racing and SoftBank Team Japan, and we are looking forward to seeing what the day will bring.”
Nathan Outteridge and Artemis Racing mounted an almighty comeback against their Japanese rivals, Dean Barker’s SoftBank Team Japan, winning all three races to take the score to 4-3, meaning they will race again tomorrow to decide the second Finalist.
“It was an awesome day for us, and I’m incredibly proud of everybody involved in our team,” said Outteridge. We had an incredibly tough day on Tuesday, and so as a team we looked back at what we had to do better. I think everyone saw not only an improved boat but a much needed improved performance from us as sailors.
“We were not particularly nervous heading into today. We know it could have been our potential exit today, but we were all quietly confident. We could have lost confidence in the boat after Tuesday but everyone dug in deep and I’m just proud of what we achieved today. We went back to basics and it just showed how easy it can be to win races again. The aim is to do the same tomorrow and take another step towards winning the America’s Cup.”
In reply, SoftBank Team Japan skipper and Cup veteran Dean Barker is refusing to concede defeat.
“It was obviously a very disappointing day, but everyone is remaining positive,” said a determined Barker. “It’s never ideal to lose three races in a day, and it is frustrating for everyone, but we take a lot of heart from today into tomorrow.”
As for the British, Sir Ben Ainslie says they’ll be back and paid tribute to his team’s effort.
“Three and a half years ago three of us were sitting around a table in London with nothing more than a few ideas and some support from a few early investors.
“What we’ve achieved now is phenomenal really. We may have bowed out of the competition and ultimately failed to bring the America’s Cup home, but we knew it was going to be incredibly tough.”