Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Team New Zealand issue warning to rivals

Competitive and exciting Louis Vuitton Cup looking unlikely as Kiwis blitz Luna Rossa in first real race.

Emirates Team New Zealand already have a substantial speed advantage over Luna Rossa. Photo / AP
Emirates Team New Zealand already have a substantial speed advantage over Luna Rossa. Photo / AP

Hopes of a competitive Louis Vuitton Cup have been sunk after the first two-boat race of the regatta turned into another no-contest.

Emirates Team New Zealand yesterday brutally exposed their massive speed advantage over Luna Rossa, blitzing the Italians by over five minutes to easily claim their third point of the regatta.

In a disappointing end to the highly-anticipated first proper showdown following a week of false starts, the final margin between the two teams was so large Luna Rossa were officially marked down as a DNF. Under racing rules of the Louis Vuitton Cup, the race officer stops the race five minutes after the first boat has finished. Luna Rossa crossed the finish line 5 minutes and 23 seconds behind the Kiwi boat.

Russell Coutts probably summed up the race best on Facebook: "Team New Zealand look polished; Prada look like they have great shoes".

In the lead-up to the regatta Team NZ's rivals in the challenger series admitted the Kiwi crew were much further advanced than them, but both Luna Rossa and Artemis hope by the knock-out stages of the challenger series they will have closed the gap. Given Artemis are yet to get a boat on the water, Luna Rossa appear to be Team NZ's most likely opponents in the Louis Vuitton final and on the evidence of yesterday it's hard to see them making a real contest of it.

But Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper remains confident. He said he was "encouraged" that most of their losses could be attributed to poor boat-handling, which he believed could be improved. Luna Rossa had problems with their system that controls their daggerboards, which meant they were not foiling efficiently and caused them to lose a lot of speed on their gybes.

"That was frustrating, but that's the way it is. The most encouraging thing is the majority of our losses were boat handling and that is something that we can definitely improve on."

Draper probably doesn't want to hear improvement is also the key word talked about in the Team NZ camp.

The Kiwis will be out on the race course again today, sailing back-to-back races for the first time. With today's scheduled match against Artemis, who are not ready to take the startline, Team NZ will have the option of sailing the shorter course, but skipper Dean Barker said he planned to sail the full-length course to keep the team "match fit".

"When we get into the knock-out stages later on we do have consecutive races where you have to recover quickly and be able to turn up 100 per cent the next day," he said.

Barker will be looking for the same slick work from his crew as they demonstrated in yesterday's showdown. While the Italian team struggled with their manoeuvres, Team NZ were impressive around the course having perfected the art of pulling off flying gybes.

Tactician Ray Davies said the presence of another boat out on the course proved strong motivation to ensure the team kept pushing hard.

"We're always trying our best and today it just felt like we clicked better than the other two days again and we've just got to work on improving all the time," said Davies.

The Kiwi team's slickest manoeuvre came in the pre-start, where some clever work by Barker saw him win leeward position, trapping the Italians in the start-box. From there, Davies said the race was "meat and potatoes".

Draper said the error in the pre-start was "painfully embarrassing" but wasn't to blame for the equally embarrassing final margin.

"In the grand scheme of things it was very, very small potatoes compared to the losses we had around the course."

- NZ Herald

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