New Zealand routs Italy in first real race of America's Cup
The first real race of the America's Cup challenger series was a runaway for Emirates Team New Zealand even before it hit the starting line on San Francisco Bay on Saturday.
Kiwi skipper Dean Barker trapped Italy's Luna Rossa during the pre-start maneuvers and then accelerated, gaining a five-length lead approaching the starting line perpendicular to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Team New Zealand's high-performance, 72-foot catamaran rose up on hydrofoils and the rout was on.
The Kiwis were so dominant that they had finished and were doing a fly-by of America's Cup Park on Piers 27-29 when the Italians were still approaching the sixth of seven marks.
"It's different, isn't it, to actually have two boats together," Barker said. "It's nice to have the Luna Rossa guys out there. It can only make you better."
It was the first time in four races that two wing-sailed AC72 catamarans were on the course at the same time.
Italy boycotted Sunday's opening race while awaiting an international jury's decision in a rules spat. Team New Zealand sailed around alone to collect a point.
The Kiwis did the same thing Tuesday, as did the Italians on Thursday, when their scheduled opponent was Artemis Racing. Swedish-based Artemis Racing has yet to launch its second boat following the capsize of its first boat on May 9 that killed British sailor Andrew "Bart" Simpson.
Saturday's race was the opener of the second of five round-robins in the Louis Vuitton Cup. Team New Zealand leads the Italians 3-1.
Artemis hopes to begin sea trials of its second boat within the week.
Team New Zealand's winning margin was 5 minutes, 23 seconds, but Luna Rossa was officially tagged with a did not finish. Boats must finish within five minutes of the winner or be ruled a DNF. That's because there will be two races a day during the Louis Vuitton Cup finals for challengers and the America's Cup match, and officials want to keep the program running on schedule.
"We probably ended up almost where we thought we'd be, probably a little bit worse off," Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper said. "We had a couple of issues around the course. We're reasonably content."
Draper said a problem with the rake system on the reaching leg to the finish meant the boat couldn't foil, which contributed to Luna Rossa finishing more than five minutes after the Kiwis.
"It was a pretty major issue," he said." It's my fault. We made a change to the system yesterday. We should know by now. We've been at this sport long enough that you shouldn't change things the day before a huge race. But we haven't got a huge amount of time and we've got to keep pushing and got to keep trying stuff all the time."
Team New Zealand has shown remarkable speed, not to mention savvy by Barker.
The veteran Cup skipper slowed his catamaran during the pre-start maneuvers and got into a controlling position against Luna Rossa. The Italians tried to duck behind the Kiwis but couldn't, leaving them trapped to windward. The boats were still a few hundred yards from the starting line when the gun sounded but Barker and the Kiwis were in great shape.
Italy also was hit with a penalty for sailing into the course boundary, forcing it to slow down and fall farther behind.
The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup will face defending champion Oracle Team USA in the 34th America's Cup starting Sept. 7.
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