After Mother Nature put paid to the scheduled first day of Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs action, Bermuda presented the four teams contesting the second stage of competition in the 35th America’s Cup with clear skies, perfect race conditions and good winds. Those conditions helped to produce a day of contrasts, with fantastic competition in one half of the Semi-Final table, and heartbreak for Sir Ben Ainslie and Land Rover BAR in the other.
The duels between Nathan Outteridge’s Artemis Racing and Dean Barker’s SoftBank Team Japan provided close competitive racing, both teams recording a win and a loss in their opening two races of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs Semi-Finals.
In contrast, a technical issue put paid to Sir Ben Ainslie and Land Rover BAR’s afternoon. There was drama right from the off in the battle between the British team and Peter Burling’s Emirates Team New Zealand, but an issue with the Land Rover BAR wingsail handed victory to the Kiwis.
The British team discovered a technical issue with their wingsail, sending them back to their base to try and take out the damaged wingsail and replace it with a spare, but they were unable to send their boat back out and had to forfeit their second race of the day. That meant that Emirates Team New Zealand won both races, their second one by default as Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR were unable to make the start.
“We’ve had a really tough day and unfortunately we suffered a breakdown in the wingsail control system,” conceded Ainslie.
“We got back to the dock to try and fit our spare wing but we just could not get back out in time for the second race.
“It is extremely disappointing to lose two races to Emirates Team New Zealand in that way but a positive to take is that we had some good gains in our speed and we will keep fighting all the way.
“These boats are really high-tech and we are pushing them to the limits. It was unfortunate what happened and we certainly did not need that today, but that’s life.
“The shore crew will be working into the night to fix the wing. They have been fantastic throughout the whole competition and no doubt we’ll come back stronger tomorrow.”
In the race one pre-start sequence Burling out manoeuvred his opposite number Ainslie, Emirates Team New Zealand timing their approach to the start line to perfection, allowing them to gain the early advantage over Land Rover BAR heading towards the first mark. Press reports before the race suggested Ainslie would be ultra-aggressive in the pre-start, but he was bettered by Burling whose team pulled out into a six second lead at the second gate, before a dramatic moment ended the race before it had really started.
Heading out of gate two, and into the third leg, Sir Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR ACC boat suddenly came off its foils and into the water, halting any momentum and allowing Emirates Team New Zealand to race ahead into a huge lead.
As the British team discussed the issue with their race boat out on the water it was quickly clear that their race was over. Ainslie radioed through to the on-water ACRM umpires to confirm that Land Rover BAR would retire from the race, ending their race one challenge and handing victory to Emirates Team New Zealand.
The damage suffered in the first race ultimately ended Land Rover BAR’s involvement in the day’s action. Sir Ben Ainslie’s team were unable to return to the start line for their second scheduled Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoff Semi-Final against Emirates Team New Zealand.
As a result, Peter Burling’s team only had to cross the start line in the scheduled third race of the afternoon to clinch victory, which they duly did, taking a two-point advantage over the British team in the process.
“It looked like we were in for a really exciting race against Land Rover BAR in the first race until they had that major failure,” said Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling, who has urged his team to stay focused despite enjoying a 2-0 lead over Sir Ben Ainslie’s team.
“It’s never nice to see that sort of thing happen to anyone but unfortunately that’s part of sailing.
“Obviously for us it is great to take the two points and enjoy what proved an easy day for us.
“However, the pressure is certainly not off of us. We’ve seen in the races so far that the teams are so close and things can change quickly so we have to stay focused going forward.”
The second race of the day, and the first Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs Semi-Final encounter between Dean Barker’s SoftBank Team Japan and Nathan Outteridge’s Artemis Racing, proved less dramatic but no less enthralling as the Japanese team sealed their important first point against the Swedes.
After an even start, it was Nathan Outteridge’s Artemis Racing who stole the early lead, reaching the first mark narrowly ahead of the Japanese team.
However, the tides turned on leg three of seven, as a perfectly executed manoeuvre from Dean Barker saw him pass Nathan Outteridge as SoftBank Team Japan snatched the lead heading into gate three.
It was an advantage they would not relinquish for the remainder of the race, maintaining a steady lead over Artemis Racing with Dean Barker holding his nerve to bring his SoftBank Team Japan over the finish line 23 seconds ahead of their rivals.
The scheduled third race of the afternoon was due to be Emirates Team New Zealand against Land Rover BAR, but the damage to Sir Ben Ainslie’s team’s wingsail put paid to the action on-water, so attention turned to Barker vs Outteridge, round two.
Having lost the first encounter, Nathan Outteridge came back fighting to clinch a crucial win and level the scores at 1-1.
In contrast to the first encounter, it was Dean Barker who won the pre-start duel to claim the early advantage, with Nathan Outteridge trying and failing with a penalty call.
However, Barker was not to have it his own way as the race progressed into a topsy-turvy encounter with multiple lead changes, particularly during leg five when Artemis Racing came out of the gate five turn with a slender lead.
Under pressure, Dean Barker made a costly and ultimately crucial mistake, tacking poorly to all but end SoftBank Team Japan’s challenge and hand the advantage to Artemis Racing.
It was a gift that Outteridge seized upon, opening up a clear gap on leg six, rounding the final mark before crossing the finish line safely ahead of his rival to level the scores and leave the tie finely poised heading into tomorrow’s scheduled races.
“We had a really good first race and we were delighted with our sailing to take that first victory,” said SoftBank Team Japan helmsman Dean Barker.
“In the second race, we had a good start and were leading comfortably but a bad gybe from ourselves allowed them (Artemis Racing) to take control.
“It is never ideal to have a poor manoeuvre like that but we go away and refocus on what we need to do going forward.”
In reply, Artemis Racing’s helmsman Nathan Outteridge was satisfied with his team’s performance overall in what proved a close battle against Dean Barker.
“I’m very happy overall to get a point on the board,” said Outteridge.
“We had two tough battles but we sailed really well and I thought the pace of the boat was great throughout the day.
“I think we were unfortunate to lose the first race because we let them through but in the second race we kept the hammer down and took a nice win.
“We backed ourselves and got an important win and that is really pleasing to take away.”
Race 1: Emirates Team New Zealand beat Land Rover BAR (Land Rover BAR retired)
Race 2: SoftBank Team Japan beat Artemis Racing by 23 seconds
Race 3: Emirates Team New Zealand beat Land Rover BAR (race terminated)
Race 4: Artemis Racing beat SoftBank Team Japan by 29 seconds