On a light-wind day that saw Race 1 thrown out when neither team made it to the finish within the 25-minute time limit, Emirates Team New Zealand fulfilled pre-regatta expectations by becoming the official challenger for the America’s Cup.
The 5 – 2 win over Sweden’s Artemis Racing sets the stage for a re-match of the 34th America’s Cup regatta on San Francisco Bay back in 2013, when Oracle and skipper Jimmy Spithill came back from a 1 – 8 deficit to win 9 – 8.
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“We feel like we’re in great shape to take on Oracle now,” says Kiwi helmsman Peter Burling. “Artemis has been an amazing partner. They’ve pushed us incredibly hard…. They've put us in good shape for the Cup. We’re here to bring the Cup back to New Zealand and that hasn’t changed. We’ve gone through a lot of adversity…. We’re super-excited to take on Oracle.”
Of course, it’s one thing to express confidence safe and sound on dry land, quite another to show confidence in the heat of battle.
On the plus side, the Kiwi team is an almost entirely new one, with former Kiwi helmsman Dean Barker most noticeably absent after being let go and then signing on with Softbank Team Japan (which went down to the Swedish boat in the first round of the playoffs). In other words, with the exception of wing-trimmer Glenn Ashby, they weren’t actually there to watch Spithill and company reel them in and then clean their clock.
Not so encouraging is the fact that while ETNZ has pretty much had its way with the rest of the challengers, the same can most definitely not be said for the Defender of Record, Oracle. In fact, in the Kiwi’s last race of the Qualifiers—which was also the last race for Oracle before it dropped out to let the top four challengers duke it out in the playoffs—they lost to Oracle for the second time, thereby also ceding Oracle the overall win in the qualifiers.
In fact, the only team to defeat the American boat at this stage of the regatta has been Artemis.
The Kiwis may also have a bit of a psychological Achilles heel with respect to heavier weather after capsizing midway through their most recent series again the Swedish team, while nothing seems to phase Spithill short of a punch in the face—and even then as veteran boxer, odds are he’d shake it off in short order.
Then again, the Kiwis seem to be exceptionally fast in lighters winds, and there are few things more demoralizing than watching your competition going speeding away as if by magic in a drifter.
We’ll all just have to wait and see. The America’s Cup regatta itself begin this Saturday, June 17.