Written by Rebecca Hayter
10 March was the first official day of the rest of the 36th America’s Cup. Heading into it, there were rumours that Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) had a serious click of speed over Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. And, there were rumours that those rumours weren’t true.
Given the information vacuum that has surrounded ETNZ’s development, rumours were inevitable. Heading into Race One of the America’s Cup, it was hard to get past the history – or, for some of us hardened journalists who are constantly surprised by how old we are – to get past recent memory.
Like half of Auckland, I was at the Viaduct Harbour where Challenger of Record Luna Rossa met Defender Team New Zealand in the 30th America’s Cup. Then, it was the tall, handsome and gracious Francesco De Angelis at the Italian helm. Every woman in New Zealand fell in love with him, although he seemed too gentle to win the America’s Cup.
Every woman in New Zealand fell in love with him, although he seemed too gentle to win the America’s Cup. And he was, at least against an incredibly slick Team New Zealand which calmly but good-naturedly beat the Italians, five-zip. But on Day 1, Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni were filling the helming positions for Francesco De Angelis.
The AC75 had replaced the IACC which now seems the America’s Cup version of a cart horse.
Back then, on the day of victory, Dean Barker had helmed for New Zealand, knowing that the America’s Cup was his future. Today, the ETNZ helm is the hard-to-read Pater Burling who seems like 30-going-on-50 and like he’d rather be anywhere than in a press conference.
He and Spithill are the two youngest skippers to win the Auld Mug; the AC75 is a young man’s boat.
The first race of the America’s Cup is supposed to be a holy grail of answers to big questions, in fact I could probably write The First Race like The First Family and everyone would know it was Day One, AC36.
Yesterday, the big questions were: who has the fastest boat? And: is ETNZ race-ready?
We didn’t see a conclusively answer to question one and personally, I’m concerned about question two.
Fans down under love an Aussie vs. Kiwi angle and with Jimmy Spithill vs. Peter Burling racing on Course E, fondly known as the Back Paddock, ANZAC rivalry was in full swing.
Prada Pirelli’s skipper Max Sirena had promised the unexpected and Race One delivered. The two boats looked like they might engage in the pre-start but kept it penalty-free then, immediately after an even start, Spithill threw a crazy move and tried to luff ETNZ for a penalty. It failed and deducted about 50-metres from Luna Rossa’s progress up the track.
Tactically, it decided the race; Luna Rossa kept in touch with Te Rehutai around the course, but never got close enough to threaten. On the final leg, ETNZ drew well ahead and finished 31-seconds ahead. ETNZ had won the race but Luna Rossa had lost it.
Race Two was almost a repeat of Race One, except with roles reversed and a much closer final delta. ETNZ turned to attack in the pre-start and, as Burling said later, he would do the same move again, but two seconds earlier. That’s the kind of refinement in which Spithill has had valuable practice in the Prada Cup.
Burling’s missed attack saw ETNZ trailing Luna Rossa to the start line. ETNZ tacked to escape, but Spithill immediately tacked to match and followed his match-racing handbook for the rest of the race.
ETNZ made several attempts to find a passing lane and get out of phase, but it also made mistakes under pressure, like tacking early into dirty air. At the final leeward gate, Luna Rossa made a move that required two extra tacks to maintain cover and it lost about 100-metres.
On the final leg, ETNZ found some extra speed and closed to within 70-metres of Luna Rossa, but the finish line finished the story; the Italians won by seven seconds.
So, about those big questions.
Boat speed? Probably fairly even, at least in the 10–14 knot wind range. Race-ready? The Italians may have the edge in the starts and the starts are the deciders.
For most of the Prada Cup, Course C was the favourite for the race director and the fans who gathered in crowds of more than 100 on North Head over Course C. For that reason, Course C has not been used under Level Two restrictions, but rumour has it that level two might be lifted soon.
If that happens, and racing does return to Course C, it will provide a venue with a shifty wind pattern that may enable passing lanes to the boat that loses the start.
However, according to a rumour, that may change.