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America's Cup World Series: Super Sunday will be the decider in Fukuoka

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America's Cup Japan, photo R.Pinto
America's Cup Japan, photo R.Pinto

Fukuoka, Japan, 11/19/2016 - Hakata Bay in Fukuoka was the scene for the historic first ever day of America’s Cup racing in Japan and it was Land Rover BAR who finished day one of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Fukuoka racing on top, adding one more point to their overall Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series lead.

The Event Village was full of thousands of Japanese fans and the wind helped the six America’s Cup teams put on a spectacular show of America’s Cup racing for the first time ever in Japan, and with a win for SoftBank Team Japan among the day’s highlights, it could not have been a better start to America’s Cup action in Japan.

In race one the start was tightly contested but it was series leaders Land Rover BAR who were quickly into the lead. Groupama Team France crossed the line early, leaving them with a startline penalty and putting them back into sixth, but as the boats headed to gate two it was the British team who were stamping their authority on the pack with only Emirates Team New Zealand giving close chase.

The fight at the front grew closer as the boats headed to mark three, Emirates Team New Zealand closed the gap to Land Rover BAR and then edged ahead as they set off on leg four. That lead was short lived, however, as an unexplained and somewhat dramatic move by the Kiwis halfway down leg four gave the advantage to Land Rover BAR, leaving the New Zealanders in second, Artemis Racing in third, Groupama Team France fourth, having clawed their way back after their startline penalty, and ORACLE TEAM USA and home favourites SoftBank Team Japan in fifth and sixth respectively.

In the end, even a late penalty on leg six could not slow up the British team too much, and they duly won the first race of the day ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand, Artemis Racing, ORACLE TEAM USA, SoftBank Team Japan and Groupama Team France in that order.

Saturday’s second race saw SoftBank Team Japan take the early advantage, streaking into a lead with the boat up on its foils as they headed ORACLE TEAM USA and the rest of the pack to gate two. This time, Land Rover BAR were at the back of the pack, perfectly demonstrating the sheer unpredictability of America’s Cup racing in its modern guise.

Another penalty for Groupama Team France pushed them back behind the British team, but at the front of the pack ORACLE TEAM USA had a brief glimpse of the lead at gate 3 before SoftBank Team Japan regained their advantage as they foiled down leg four. From that point they never looked like losing and as the hometown favourites crossed the line in first place the cheers from the crowd could be heard in Tokyo!

ORACLE TEAM USA finished race two in second, Land Rover BAR, having staged a mighty comeback, were third, Artemis Racing were third and Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama Team France again brought up the rear.

The final race of the day was race three and even though SoftBank Team Japan had a good start it was ORACLE TEAM USA who rounded the first mark in the lead. Behind them the Japanese and British teams were fighting for second and third and it was Ben Ainslie’s team who took the advantage, moving ahead of Dean Barker’s SoftBank Team Japan crew in third, but only for a short time as the Japanese team pushed themselves back into second on the fourth leg. Halfway towards mark four Land Rover BAR moved back ahead of SoftBank Team Japan who had a halyard failure slow them down and from that point the battle for second place was where the real action took place.

Emirates Team New Zealand had moved up and suddenly Groupama Team France were also in the mix with the Kiwis and the Brits, the race towards second place at the line seeing the advantage change constantly, but in the last race of Saturday it was ORACLE TEAM USA who were celebrating, Land Rover BAR in second, Emirates Team New Zealand in third, Groupama Team France in fourth and Artemis Racing just nudging ahead of SoftBank Team Japan in a photo finish at the finish line in a drag race on the foils for fifth.

The results mean Land Rover BAR heads ORACLE TEAM USA on both the Fukuoka and overall Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series leaderboards.

With bonus points for next year’s Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers in play for the top two finishers in the overall series, it’s still all to play for with four teams in with a shot at earning a head start in Bermuda.

Selected team quotes:

Kazuhiro “Fuku” Sofuku, Bowman and General Manager, SoftBank Team Japan: ““It was amazing this morning to walk through the streets and see so many people coming down to watch the event. It was great! It’s such a good opportunity for us to introduce the Japanese people to great sport and also to show people all around the world how beautiful our country is. We had mixed results today but we will work harder tomorrow and with the great support we have here I’m sure it will be a great day.”

Giles Scott, Tactician, Land Rover BAR: “We’re in a really great place. I think we’ve put one point on ORACLE TEAM USA today, we’ve held the lead we came into this regatta with, but it’s double points tomorrow so I don’t think we can rest on our laurels. The way I look at it, you ask any of these guys where they want to be coming into the final regatta, they’d be lying if they said they didn’t want to be in the lead. We're certainly no different, we’re happy with our lead and I think we’d take that pressure any day.

Jimmy Spithill, Skipper, ORACLE TEAM USA: "I thought we sailed pretty well today. We were on the back foot in the first race, but the boys rallied and you have to be able to come back from those tough situations and we did a good job of that today. I think we have to come out tomorrow and go as hard as we can. It's so difficult to push one boat back but if there are any opportunities we'll take them. We're fighting for the win. We're not shooting for second place. At the end of the day all we have to focus on tomorrow is winning races."

Franck Cammas, Skipper, Groupama Team France: “Throughout the day the wind was increasing and in the last race that meant we were able to foil and that was good for the show and for our team as the rest of the day was not really like that. In race three we had improved but we lost places at the last mark. We know the mistake we made but otherwise we were in the game in the middle of the fleet in the final race, the boat speed was good down wind, but there were too many mistakes and we have to avoid that tomorrow.”

Peter Burling, Helmsman, Emirates Team New Zealand: “It was a really tough day. It’s been a while since we sailed in those kind of conditions, I think the last time was Chicago, and to finally get the boats foiling, that’s what they’re designed for and it’s good that the crowd got to see that sort of spectacle. For us, we had a fair bit of rust on, as I say, we hadn’t sailed the boats in those sorts of conditions since Chicago, so there was a fair bit to chip away on and I think that’s why we were sailing better in the last race.”

Nathan Outteridge, Skipper, Artemis Racing: “It wasn’t the greatest of days for us and it progressively got worse I guess, looking at the points, but today was probably about as hard as these boats are to sail. We were pretty happy with our first two races, it was a bit disappointing to lose Ben right at the final mark, and in that last one we probably just pushed a bit too hard at the start, a bit too aggressive trying to get round that first mark in the first two, and got a bunch of penalties because of that. However, we fought hard to get back into it and beat SoftBank Team Japan right there at the end, and got that final point and that point will probably mean a lot tomorrow.

Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series Fukuoka Leaderboard
(Team Name -- Finish Position -- Points)

Land Rover BAR -- 1, 3, 2 -- 27 points
ORACLE TEAM USA -- 4, 2, 1 -- 26
Emirates Team New Zealand -- 2, 5, 3 -- 23
Artemis Racing -- 3, 4, 5 -- 21
SoftBank Team Japan -- 5, 2, 6 -- 21
Groupama Team France -- 6, 6, 4 -- 17

Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series OVERALL Leaderboard
Land Rover BAR -- 464 points
ORACLE TEAM USA -- 449 
Emirates Team New Zealand -- 443
SoftBank Team Japan -- 420
Artemis Racing -- 412
Groupama Team France -- 377