What a great day for the America’s Cup to make its official racing debut in Japan. Challenging conditions, but at least there was wind, enough at times for foiling, and it stayed in for the duration of racing.
As always with America’s Cup World Series racing, the set course was very short with tight boundaries, and with the cross over conditions, handling and sail choice between the jib and code zero, and whether to attempt foiling were critical.
You could tell the sailors were enjoying the conditions as they warmed up, and foiled around the spectator and photo boats before racing, making for plenty of photo opportunities.
By the time race one got under way just after 1pm, it had eased slightly to settle in the west nor west at about six to twelve knots with some soft patches to the northern side of the course.
Land Rover BAR nailed the start, you could feel that Ben Ainslie wanted to continue his dominance of the World Series. Oracle Team USA on the other hand started poorly, and if it had not been for Groupama Team France being over at the start (OCS) the defenders would have been last at mark one.
As the fleet followed Land Rover BAR around the bottom gate Artemis Racing was the first to pull out the code zero. Others followed suit as the course transitioned into a light phase.
The final work paid on the left hand side in both direction and pressure. Land Rover BAR were positioned to consolidate, and Oracle Team USA also took advantage to move up into the mix.
At the last top mark Land Rover BAR had a big lead followed by Emirates Team New Zealand and Artemis Racing with a closing Oracle Team USA. Artemis Racing sailed the run really well to steal second from Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ).
On speaking with the Helmsman of ETNZ and recent gold medaliist, Peter Burling after racing (check out my interviews for more), he was happy with the day and confident going into tomorrow that the team would “put their best foot forward and try to leap frog Oracle Team USA or BAR” in the overall rankings.
Land Rover BAR are on 464 total points to Oracle Team USA’s 449 and ETNZ’s 443.
Final results for race 1 were Land Rover BAR, Artemis Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle Team USA, SoftBank Team Japan and Groupama Team France.
There was a slight increase in breeze for the second start, which was won by Dean Barker on SoftBank Japan much to the delight of the Japanese crowd. Oracle Team USA was hot on their heels at mark one followed by Groupama Team France, Land Rover BAR, Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand.
As the boats bore away at the reach mark they popped up one by one on their foils, and flew down the run. You could hear the boats humming. Groupama Team France slowed proceedings when they scored a penalty down the first run for not giving Artemis Racing room to gybe away from the boundary, and ended up all but at the back. To everyone’s surprise Land Rover BAR were last to the bottom mark.
SoftBank Japan managed the conditions beautifully to extend their lead in the middle sections of the race only to be reined in by Oracle Team USA up the last work. Oracle had the local team on toast coming back in from the right on starboard, but waved them through to take the port top mark unattested. SoftBank rounded the starboard mark and was immediately up and foiling away in a beautiful puff and shift to give them an unassailable lead for the last hook reach to the finish.
But not to be out done, Ben Ainslie and his team worked their way back onto the podium from a fifth at the bottom gate the last time, fourth round the top gate and up to third at the finish to have us all shaking our heads in amazement at their recovery in such a quality fleet.
Final results for race two were; SoftBank Team Japan, Oracle Team USA, Land Rover BAR, Artemis Racing, Emirates Team NZ, and Groupama Team France.
Artemis Racing jumped the gun literally at the start of the third race when they hit the line one second early up on their foils. By the time they had shed the penalty the fleet were well gone.
“It was a bit frustrating” said Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge. “We identified that the windward end was looking pretty good, and we know that when the wind gets up a little bit if you can slingshot from a distance and be foiling at the gun you can be gone… We decided to go for it at the windward end. We could have been looking really famous there with a massive lead, but instead we were a second early, and just fouled New Zealand. The blue light stayed on for the whole first reach!”
In contrast, Oracle Team USA had the perfect leeward position, and accelerated to have a lovely lead at the reaching mark. They were followed by SoftBank Team Japan, Emirates Team New Zealand, Land Rover BAR, Groupama Team France and Artemis Racing (clear of their penalty).
Again Ben Ainslie and his team showed great skills to get through two boats on the first run and stay in contention. Regardless of the relentless British team, Oracle Team USA extended up the next work and at the top gate they had a strong lead followed by the Brits, SoftBank Team Japan, Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama Team France, in close succession.
Down the next run all of the boats were foiling and SoftBank executed a perfect gybe above Land Rover BAR to slide into second place. Their gain was short lived, as within moments of moving up to second, the local team suffered gear failure, which we now know was a locked code zero jammer (more in my interviews). SoftBank Team Japan slid all the way back to trail the fleet with Artemis Racing. These two final placed boats went on to have the finish of the day, foiling across the line with bows virtually even. The home crowd were disappointed when Artemis were named in fifth over SoftBank Team Japan.
Final positions for race three were Oracle Team USA, Land Rover BAR, Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama Team France, Artemis Racing and SoftBank Team Japan nursing their broken code zero jammer.
Overall results for the series so far are as follows:
Overall, it was a sensational day with the notables being the brilliance of Land Rover BAR salvaging two keeper results from seemingly impossible positions in races two and three to keep the series lead and regatta lead.
“We managed to go the right way, and as well as that we executed some real hard crew manoeuvres pretty well” said Giles Scott, Land Rover BAR tactician and recently crowned gold medallist in the Finn Class at Rio 2016. “So I think globally from all of us on board we are pretty chuffed with how we sailed”.
Interestingly for the statisticians out there, the boat that led at mark one in every race went on to take the win. So who will be nailing the starts tomorrow? We will have to wait and see. But what we do know is that it is going to be incredibly difficult to prevent Land Rover BAR from walking away at the end of tomorrow without two bonus points leading into the challenger series next year.
Images by Rob Douglass for AdventuresofaSailorGirl.com