Job Vermeulen / America's Cup

Job Vermeulen / America's Cup

America's Cup, dynamic Practice racing in perfect Barcelona


02/09/2023 - 13:09

Four fleet races. Four high-octane spectacles. Proof beyond doubt that foiling monohulls are changing the perception of the sport of sailing with the pure, one-design AC40s providing the ultimate tactical and technique racing. In perfect conditions out in Barcelona with a building breeze that just climbed the anemometer scale from 8 knots at the start through to a full-blooded 16 knots and a light chop, the professional sailors from the 37th America’s Cup teams, simply couldn’t have wished for more.

It was all-action from the very first start with INEOS Britannia absolutely acing the line, hitting it bang on the gun with pace and power to march into an early advantage. The British have showed flashes of absolute brilliance with a make-shift team co-opted into the AC40 ‘Athena’ having suffered illness within the original starting line-up and trimmers Luke Parkinson and Iain Jensen stepping in to assist the hard-charging Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott on the helms. At the top mark, the British selected the left-hand port gate marker and rounded first with Alinghi Red Bull Racing in second whilst close behind Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Orient Express filed to the starboard, right hand gate.

Calling the wind today was a dark art with plenty of freedom of expression allowed and whilst the right-hand side paid perhaps more often, the middle and playing the shifts, especially towards the top of the course seemed optimal. INEOS Britannia broke first from the starboard gybe downwind, keen to not bang a corner downwind as they did yesterday, and the Swiss were quick to follow with the knowledge that the Kiwis and Italians were flying down the left side of the course.

Job Vermeulen / America's Cup

By the leeward gate, INEOS Britannia were still leading and opted for the port gate but suddenly a tactical call and perfect set-up from Arnaud Psarofaghis and Maxime Bachelin saw the Swiss round fast at the starboard marker (looking down the course) and headed into a click more pressure with fabulous boatspeed and low-riding. With the rest of the fleet underneath them as they tacked for the middle of course, it was clear that the Swiss had gained, and Alinghi Red Bull Racing brought every hour of their intense training to bear with a killer cross to seize the lead and most importantly have clean lanes to tack into.

After rounding the starboard gate, Alinghi Red Bull Racing lit the afterburners and with much better control and power downwind today, most likely after an intense de-brief from yesterday, never looked like relinquishing the lead. INEOS Britannia followed fast, rounding the port gate with Luna Rossa and looked absolutely composed, leaving the fight for the podium between Emirates Team New Zealand who looked absolutely buried in fourth place, and the Italians. The Kiwis were relentless in their downwind work and decided to play the shifts down the middle of the course, keeping the power on and all the pressure on the Italians. Alinghi Red Bull Racing crossed the line to win their first race in the 37th America’s Cup cycle, INEOS Britannia took a very credible second and with a great final gybe, Emirates Team New Zealand took third. Astonishingly good racing and all credit to the young Swiss team who more than deserved their victory.

With their confidence levels sky-high, Alinghi Red Bull Racing nailed the second start, setting up just to windward of Emirates Team New Zealand in a building breeze that was now up at peaks of 16 knots. Peter Burling went into an immediate, and highly effective, high mode that forced the Swiss off and the Kiwis barrelled over to the boundary where the tale of race two was set. On the tack back to port tack, Emirates Team New Zealand were clear ahead and one of the marks of the Kiwis is that they are excellent front-runners. A smooth rounding followed by outstanding and relentless work downwind with the mainsail fanning beautifully on every wave-form saw what one Recon Team Member described as a ‘Masterclass by the Kiwis’ who seemed to have real pace through the chop and just the smoothest flight on either gybe.

Luna Rossa and Alinghi Red Bull Racing trailed down the first run and then at the leeward gate, Peter Burling called for a ‘JK’ around the starboard marker to give them gauge to windward whilst the following yachts took the port marker at the gate. Classy move and no doubt one that’s been practiced relentlessly in the simulator, the Kiwis looked on another level in the breeze. With almost a quarter of a leg lead down the final run, the win was never in doubt with the Italians and Swiss making the podium after a gybing duel. Orient Express Racing were dicing with INEOS Britannia on the final leg, but a big sky-rocket and hobby-horse saw the boat come off its foils and sealed their fate. Great racing.

The start of race three saw some typical Gallic flair as Orient Express Racing led the fleet down to the pin end of the line and crossed with pace and power in a classic fleet race start. With a lee-bow on the Kiwis, this was Quentin Delapierre’s moment and as the French hit the boundary, they were ahead on the tack to port but with the high-moded Nathan Outteridge right under their bow as they led the fleet into the middle of the course. Before long, experience told, and Emirates Team New Zealand eased into another lead they simply wouldn’t relinquish. At the top mark, the Kiwis elected the starboard marker whilst second placed Alinghi Red Bull Racing and INEOS Britannia in hot pursuit elected for bear-aways at the port gate.

Job Vermeulen / America's Cup

The wind at this point appeared to build down the left of the run, right where the Kiwis were playing and both the Swiss and British gybed over to cover. It was a gybe to forget for INEOS Britannia who broached and effectively ended their race and brought Luna Rossa and Alinghi Red Bull Racing into combat for the podium places. A split at the leeward gate would normally decide the order but that wasn’t the case. The Italians took the port exit, and the Swiss went to the starboard marker and up the beat, the Swiss played left middle whilst the Italians played right middle with the Kiwis up ahead and stretching away. At the final windward gate, Alinghi Red Bull Racing held second but the final gybing duel down the run saw Luna Rossa squeak ahead and take yet another second place. Thrilling racing but the Kiwis were on fire.

The writing was on the wall as race four got underway and once again Peter Burling muscled into the mid-line with Luna Rossa to leeward and INEOS Britannia just up to windward. As the meat in the sandwich, it was all about holding the lane and getting high and it wasn’t long before the Italians tacked to duck their stern and the British peeled away. With the left side of the beat secured, the Kiwis tacked across to cover Luna Rossa out right but already the lead was significant. By the windward mark, the Kiwis were in control rounding the starboard marker followed by Luna Rossa and the extended down the run and took the port gate with the Italians bringing up the rear and following suit. INEOS Britannia and Alinghi Red Bull Racing went for the starboard gate and were enjoying a decent tussle between them all the way up the final beat before disaster struck the Swiss on the final rounding with the rudder coming out of the water on a big bear-away at pace and sending the boat into a full-stop nosedive. Thankfully no injuries and the boat looked to have come away unscathed but a big moment for the sailors and the end of their day. The tale of the tape was a third win from four races for Emirates Team New Zealand who looked masterful and adaptable all day.

After sailing, the recon interviews were fascinating with everyone taking away so much from this initial two-days of racing (more to come next week), none more so than the French who impressed all round. Thierry Douillard, Orient Express Racing Team coach put it brilliantly saying: “We have made Friday, we finish an awesome day, awesome week, the boat is in one piece, no damage and the guys are doing some lee bows with the best sailors in world, and we are happy to compete. But I know the guys they want to beat them so they're going to work hard, and, in our process, we still have to work on many, many, different process for the start…everything…but we are we're on track and we just focus on ourselves, and it'll be an awesome a year for us.”

Asked what the team need to do in the coming year, Thierry commented: “For us it’s to be humble, we know that we are late competitors, and we can't catch in a small amount of time, so we just have to be realistic how we go step by step, every day, every hour on the water to try to edge the guys. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not Vilanova, it’s not Jeddah, it's in 2024 at the end so we just need to take time, and things are really coming together.”

Job Vermeulen / America's Cup

There was a real smile on Maxime Bachelin’s face after racing that he just couldn’t hide. Alinghi Red Bull Racing have been hugely impressive this week and he summed it up beautifully saying: “Yeah it was pretty nice racing all the day ,and the first race was heavy winds and still flat water because the wind was just increasing, so it was a lot of fun and yeah we did a very good start and we just managed the shifts because it's quite tricky on this area - sometimes left, sometimes right - so really speaking a lot with the team about the pressure and the shifts and it was working very well for the first race….I think the objectives of the day was really to get faster on the downwind like to really get the speed that we didn't have yesterday and I think we managed to have it today and we felt very strong on the speed upwind and downwind so it was making the day easier.”

Confidence is building in this young Swiss team and Maxime added: “We are so happy to be back on the racing, because we are waiting for this for more than one year and yeah just to fight against the others, we're very happy with that and it was a good feeling as we were strong today, it was good.”

Elise Beavis, the ace Performance Analyst for Emirates Team New Zealand gave a terrific interview after sailing and kept it real saying: “It was a really awesome day out there today and yesterday. It's been epic having five boats on the racetrack all racing around. It's so cool actually having this fleet racing going on and able to put into practise and try these different fleet racing things which I guess as a team isn't something that we've had for a long, long, time so yeah really cool, sort of working on how you set up to come off the line nicely, how you position yourself relative to the whole fleet, not just one other boat, so yeah really great day out there.”

Asked what the secret of their success was today, Elise alluded to the incredible work ethic withing Emirates Team New Zealand and their attention to detail saying: “We've done a lot of work on where our targets are and how the two sides of the boat is setting up and making sure that we have explored the options and the different ways that things are being set-up. I think since last time, a few weeks back when we raced, some of the other teams have really homed-in on the best ways to set up the boat and so making sure we nail that set-up to get as much speed out of the boat as possible.”

Asked what the team’s weakness is right now, Elise offered: “It's getting off the start as well as possible and just having had so little practice in fleet racing, so I guess four yesterday, four today, it's very few fleet races that we’ve had to do and something that we can't emulate in our own training. So, we can work on tacks and work on gybes, we can work on straight-line speed and bear-away round-ups but you know the fleet racing is something we've had so little practice with so really trying to learn as much from these few days as we can.”

Philippe Presti, the super-calm, hugely respected coach for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli was pleased with his team’s performance saying: “It was great to race especially in these conditions and tight racing and the boats are awesome for this sort of thing…Every time we can sail against all the boats is a goal for us, so we worked on our pre-start routine, our software and yeah we had a good finish of the day with three second places, pretty happy with that.”

Asked what differences he observed with how the Kiwis were sailing, Philippe said: “Mainly they were out of the line better than anyone else, so they had a free lane with kind of good pace obviously and from there on there just increasing the lead and yeah the last three races we were close to them, and they didn't stretch from us, but you know the gain at the start was making the difference.” Philippe also made his observations on the AC40 as a boat saying: “They're very similar on speed are very easy to handle and yeah it’s a great tactical tool just to play around.”

Final word to INEOS Britannia’s Luke Parkinson who gave a brilliantly honest interview after a day where consistency mattered, and the British showed real signs of potential. Explaining the day he said: “We had a bit of a day of everything, the conditions started light and then filled to a good breeze with some opportunities and we had some really good moments off the start in particular, showed some good speed in some of the conditions, but we also made quite a few mistakes and left a fair few lengths slip away too…We haven't really been racing as much as what we probably want to be racing and it's sort of showing a little bit and it's sort of weighing up the trade-offs in importance I suppose, and we feel that we can catch up on this front and yeah, definitely enjoy doing so.”

Looking at the other teams’ performances, Luke observed: “The Kiwis are strong when the breeze is up for sure, they're not making many mistakes and even when they don't have a great start, they seem to be able to hold their patience and sail through and get a solid result. We press the wrong buttons and have a little wobble and we lose a little bit here and there and it just continuously adds up.” Refreshingly honest but more than a hint of determination around the INEOS Britannia base, this evening.

The only team not to compete this week was NYYC American Magic who opted for a one-boat day of testing today looking at two different sized mainsails. Paul Goodison was pleased with the decision the team took as the past two days have been vital for their design decisions on their AC75 but admitted to feeling on the outside of the racing , saying: “We've had a big test list to get through, primarily hydro at the beginning of week, this today was more primary focus on aero and we managed to see what we wanted to see but it's always hard when you look over your shoulder and see the other guys racing and feel like you're missing out a bit. But we achieved what we needed to do and the focus switches to racing and hopefully get amongst them get some race practise in next week.”

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