America's Cup: Team NZ take 4-1 lead

By Paul Lewis, in San Francisco

Hope must be fading anew in the Italian camp. No breakages, no retirements, no disqualifications - today two races completed and, in both of them, Luna Rossa could find no way past Emirates Team New Zealand.

If today's trend continues, New Zealand could retain the Louis Vuitton Cup (and win the right to take on Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup match) by Sunday (NZT).

The best of 13 (first to seven) series got away to a poor start with the first three races all decided by gear failures and the afternoon races ruled out by wind limits. Today, however, one pattern was continued and one was set.

The pattern continued was Dean Barker winning both starts. True, Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper pushed them hard during the pre-start and the boats crossed the line almost together - but with the Kiwis marginally in front. Barker has now won all five starts.

Then another pattern was set - this one of boat speed. In the short reach to the first mark, it was a straight drag race, elbowing for position into the mark. For almost all the way, the two giant catamarans were side-by-side. Then, somehow, the Kiwis found something extra.

The boat seemed to gather itself and leap, finding acceleration that left the Italians four seconds down at that mark and then behind by 18s at the end of the downwind leg.

The Italians pulled off a beautiful gybe at that mark, cutting back a lead of almost 300m to about 70m - but the New Zealand boat speed was not to be denied. Luna Rossa engaged them in a tacking duel and the Kiwis will have been grateful for some racing which pushed them and made them think.

But tactician Ray Davies plotted a smart course to the next mark, rounding it 1m 6s ahead and once again showing a clean pair of heels to the Italian boat upwind - this leg shaping more and more as a key element in the Cup match.

In the end, Aotearoa came home 1m 28s ahead of Luna Rossa who had an improved sailing showing from the first race.

So we can forget about the line that says Emirates Team NZ's boat is suited mostly to heavier winds.

Both were races held in some of the lightest airs of this regatta - 12-14 knots gusting to about 18 knots at times. And the Kiwis flew.

In the first race, Barker again won the start clearly, with the Italian yacht getting too close to the line and having to stutter-start. As Barker said after the race, "a little bit of momentum goes a long way with these boats."

The New Zealanders used the momentum startlingly well. In light winds, the Italian boat was supposed to have a better show against Team NZ's AC72 but Aotearoa burst away - faster downwind, faster upwind and definitely faster on manoeuvres, winning the race by 2 minutes 18 seconds.

That will have been a gut shot for the Italians. Though tactician Francesco Bruni said after the race that he thought the Italian boat would do better in winds of 15 knots or better, evidence so far suggests that is not an option either. Most observers thought light airs was their best chance.

The Italians also made mistakes in the first race; they incurred a go-slow penalty for straying over the boundary again and their manoeuvres simply did not have the smoothness or the speed of the Kiwis.

At one stage, the Kiwis hurtled through a turn at 43.7 knots which, depending on the wind speed at that precise moment, must have been close to, or exceeded, boat speed three times the wind speed.

They also foiled well, gybed mostly on their foils and produced that highly effective semi-foiling upwind, averaging about 20 knots and putting distance on the Italians, as they did on all of the five legs.

"We are really happy with the way the boat is going in these conditions," said Davies.

- NZ Herald

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