Team New Zealand have impressed in their first showdown on the water in Bermuda, beating America's Cup pace-setters Artemis in an official practice race today.
After launching their America's Cup Class (ACC) race boat in Bermuda last weekend, the Kiwi team were able to recommission the boat in time to take part in the final day of practice racing today. They drew Swedish team Artemis, who have emerged as one of Emirates Team New Zealand's key rivals for the challenger crown, first up, and made a strong statement.
The Kiwi syndicate had a convincing win over Artemis, before toppling French team Groupama in their second match-up. The only blip on Team New Zealand's record was a loss to Team Japan, skippered by Dean Barker, in their final match-up.
Despite the loss, Peter Burling, who deposed Barker at the helm of Team NZ, said the crew were extremely happy with their first proper hit-out.
"We had a few little stuff-ups there, but Team Japan were sailing really well today and they beat Jimmy [Spithill] and the Oracle guys by quite a bit as well," Burling told Tony Veitch on Newstalk ZB.
"It was really good to check-in and make sure we're in the ballpark in terms of speed, and it seems we are, so we're really happy with that. But days like today really highlight the areas you've got to improve on.
"We've just got to keep focusing on how to make the boat go quicker, make our maneouvres tidier and get the boat around the race track quicker. And we know all the teams will be focused on that as well, it is about who can improve the most over the next month."
Burling said Team New Zealand, like other syndicates, didn't reveal all their cards in their first practice racing session.
"We're definitely not showing all our cards yet, but we feel like we're in a really good space to move forward and improve. We're learning very quickly a few of the things that [the other teams] have been doing really well up here," he said.
"We don't have the boat fully wound up yet, and we're there's a few things the other guys aren't showing as well, but we're pretty happy with where we checked in. Today has been really positive to say the least."
Team New Zealand's win over Artemis in particular was a positive sign they are in good shape.
The Swedish team have emerged as the form boat through the practice rounds, and have blitzed Cup defenders Oracle Team USA for speed in earlier match-ups. Artemis were unbeaten in the third official practice racing window earlier this month, recording a 9-0 win-loss record, with four of those wins coming against Oracle.
Add to that the two wins they extracted from Oracle Team USA in the final two days of the opening practice racing session, and that is a 6-0 record against the defender.
In a video blog on the America's Cup website, Oracle Team USA chief executive and event head Russell Coutts admitted Artemis are undoubtedly the form team, but points out the rate of development in the ACC boats is so quick, a lot can happen over the next month before racing starts.
"Artemis Racing are still the form team. I think if we were racing the America's Cup today, they would be the favourite," said Coutts.
"The revolution with this America's Cup has been quite incredible. A lot is still changing, it's too early to predict who will be [the strongest] but the performance of the boats has been impressive ... we're getting close to that 50-knot speed barrier."
Land Rover BAR skipper Ben Ainslie said each team appears to be at a different stage with their development.
"Our team certainly has a huge amount left in the tanks in terms of upgrades to the boat and its performance. We are clearly going to need that given how the racing has gone for us so far. That's the nature of being a new team in the America's Cup. It's a challenge, but we are confident that we have a lot of potential gain between now and the Cup," said Ainslie.