Two wins for USA in dramatic start to America’s Cup
Hamilton (Bermuda) (AFP) – Oracle Team USA rallied to edge Emirates Team New Zealand Saturday as the 35th America’s Cup got underway with two wins for two-time defending champions Oracle and a collision involving Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR.
The drama unfolded under picture-book skies on Bermuda’s Great Sound, where near gale-force winds had prevented the scheduled start on Friday.
For the first time the defending champions are competing in the qualifiers, and Team USA didn’t disappoint.
They delivered the first of two thumpings handed out to Groupama Team France before taking on New Zealand in a rematch of the 2013 America’s Cup — when the US outfit won eight straight races to seal one of the biggest comeback triumphs in sport.
Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill caught New Zealand as they rounded the mark into the penultimate leg and went on to win by six seconds.
A closely fought start launched a fascinating contest that saw Team New Zealand take a 20-second lead at gate three.
But by gate five Spithill had closed the gap and they came toward the mark virtually side-by-side.
Team USA came out of the turn in front and held on for the win.
After the first day of round-robin qualifiers Team USA were tied atop the standings with Britain’s Land Rover BAR, both on three points.
The British syndicate came into the qualifiers with two bonus points from the America’s Cup World Series, from which Team USA brought one point.
They quelled the doubts raised by lackluster practice race showings with an impressive victory over Sweden’s Artemis Racing, but the day would end badly for Ainslie’s BAR.
They were penalized for a scary pre-start collision with SoftBank Team Japan and with visible damage to one hull finished 48 seconds behind the Japanese in the final race of the day.
The crash came after four-time Olympic gold medallist Ainslie slammed into Team New Zealand during practice racing last week, costing the Kiwi team valuable time on the water as they made repairs.
Team Japan tactician Chris Draper said there were “a couple of bruises” among SoftBank crew members and some compression damage to his boat’s carbon fiber hull.
“It could have been pretty ugly,” Draper said.
But the more serious damage was to BAR — who could have trouble making repairs in time for their scheduled races on Sunday against heavy hitters Team USA and Team New Zealand.
The postponement of opening day swelled Saturday’s schedule from four races to six.
Artemis, whose stock has risen with some impressive practice performances this month, was down early to Team Japan, captained by New Zealand’s Dean Barker.
But Artemis managed to gain the lead on the fifth leg, pulling alongside and forcing Barker to give way then holding on for a 13-second win.
New Zealand gained their first point with a dominant victory over France — officially unveiling the bicycle-style grinding system they’ve installed in place of arm-driven winches to power the catamaran’s hydraulics system.