Emirates Team New Zealand exposed the first cracks in the armor of the dominant BMW Oracle Racing team at the Louis Vuitton Trophy Dubai today.
The New Zealanders split race wins with the regatta leader, winning their second match by a nail-biting one-second margin over the fast advancing Americans.
Oracle skipper James Spithill had won the pair’s first match, preserving his team’s no-loss record after four days of racing off the host Dubai International Marine Club and putting the Kiwis on the back foot.
In an about-face, New Zealand’s Dean Barker grabbed control at the start of the second race and led the Americans around the course.
It was a must-win for the Kiwi team flying the flag of the United Arab Emirates. Down two races before today, and docked half a point for a collision on the opening day, they ideally needed two wins to put a dent in the winning performance of the team that holds the America’s Cup.
The scoreboard now has BMW Oracle Racing on seven points and Emirates Team New Zealand in second place with 3.5 points. Sweden’s Artemis Racing, Synergy Russian Sailing Team and the French/German team All4One are third-equal on three points. Italy’s Mascalzone Latino Audi team is sixth with two points.
Expectations were heightened at the end of the day when old Louis Vuitton Cup foes America and New Zealand lined up for their first start. Oracle’s Spithill won the start and claimed the favored right hand side of the course. The Kiwi boat led early but better conditions on the right favored the Americans.
Barker kept it close and there were two confrontations at the top of the first leg with flogging sails, shouts and protest flags. The combatants narrowly avoided collisions and all the protests were green-flagged by the on-water umpires.
In the second race Barker was pinned by his rival in the pre-start but got out of jail with a minute remaining before the start gun. The right was favored and the Kiwi skipper grabbed it like a drowning man.
Barker exploited his edge all around the course, remaining a couple of boat lengths clear of the attacking Americans. However the Oracle team’s favorable gybe on the last leg almost robbed ETNZ of their sorely-needed point.
“It was another good close race,” said Emirates tactician Ray Davies. “Obviously we’re going to see a few more races like this so better get used to it. In the last race there was some favorable line bias and pretty much the reversal of what we saw in our first race. It was a bit tricky on that run to the finish but, very happy with the final result.”
At least a day’s racing remains in the First Round Robin. All the teams each have two races still to sail. ETNZ and Artemis have a third match, with the promise of a one-point advance on the score table for the winner.
Flight One, Race One, Synergy Russian Sailing def All4One, 00:08 - Synergy Russian Sailing team earned a come from behind win with a pass on the first run. But they were given a scare on the short downwind sprint to the finish on the second lap of the course as All4One made a gain with a smoother rounding at the top mark, and some good crew work on their downwind gybes. Although the French-German team was able to pull into an overlapped position halfway down the run, Francesco Bruni and his Synergy crew held their nerve to earn a narrow victory.
Flight One, Race Two, Artemis def Mascalzone Latino Audi, 00:39
- This match was all but over before it began as Gavin Brady, at the helm of the Italian boat, picked up a penalty one minute before the start. Attempting to dive down to leeward of Artemis, which was leading back towards the starting line, the bow of the Italian boat clipped the safety wands extending from the transom of the Swedes. Carrying the burden of his penalty all the way around the track, there was nothing Brady and his team could do to recover. An easy victory for Artemis.
Flight Two, Race One, All4One def Synergy Russia Sailing, 00:11 - A good start by Seb Col on All4One saw him win the right hand side of the course with his nose forward of Synergy. Bruni, at the helm of the Russian boat, was forced to luff hard to clear the pin end of the starting line, handing the early lead to Col. A tacking duel ensued, with All4One always holding the advantage on the right, which translated into a seven-second lead at the top mark. On the run, Synergy was able to position itself well for the gybe towards the leeward gate and rumbled past All4One to an 11-second lead. But on the second beat, the duo of Seb Col and tactician John Cutler engineered a pass for All4One, successfully fending off a lee-bow tack by Synergy, allowing them to sail the Russian team out past the layline before leading back to the mark and holding on to the finish for an important win.
Flight Two, Race Two, Mascalzone Latino Audi def Artemis, 00:38 - A nice timed run start by Mascalzone Latino saw them tight to leeward of Artemis and hitting the line with speed, forcing the Swedish boat to tack away. The Italian team rounded the top mark with a lead of just one length but gained on the run to have a comfortable margin the rest of the way around.
Flight Three, Race One, BMW Oracle Racing def Emirates Team New Zealand, 00:19 – James Spithill and BMWOR won the start, and the right side of the course. Dean Barker and the Kiwis split away to the left for an early advantage but more pressure on the right drove the American boat ahead. Racing was close, close enough for a dial down confrontation at the top of the first beat and a series of protest flags at the top mark, all green flagged. Barker stayed within two boat lengths on the run and attacked with a series of muscle-punishing tacks upwind but Spithill dominated and won comfortably.
Flight Three, Race Two, Emirates Team New Zealand def BMW Oracle Racing, 00:01 – James Spithill controlled the start until the last minute when Dean Barker got under his guard and pushed BMWOR away from the favored right hand side. The Kiwi boat controlled comfortably with a two boat lead until the final leg when a crucial gybe saw the Americans advancing to trail by just five metres at the finish.
1. BMW ORACLE Racing, 7-1, 7 pts
2. Emirates Team New Zealand, 4-3, 3.5 pts *
= 3. Artemis Racing, 3-4, 3 pts
= 3. Synergy Russian Sailing Team, 3-5, 3 pts
= 3. All4One, 3-5, 3 pts
6. Mascalzone Latino Audi Team, 3-5, 2 pts *