Italy’s Luna Rossa showed defending champion Team New Zealand that predictions of an America’s Cup walkover were premature Wednesday, as the opening day of racing ended with honours even.
Team New Zealand easily won the first of two races contested in Auckland on day one of the regatta, only for Luna Rossa, widely written off in the lead-up, to bounce back and claim the second.
Team New Zealand cruised to victory in the first race by 31 seconds before Luna Rossa held off a late charge to snatch the second by seven seconds.
The Italian syndicate’s co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill was jubilant at the 1-1 scoreline in the best-of-13 competition and eager for racing to resume on Friday.
“We followed our plan, kept it calm and the boat did the rest of the work,” the Australian said.
“It’s great to be competitive. I can’t wait mate, bring it on.”
Team NZ’s helmsman Peter Burling, who steered the New Zealanders to victory in the last regatta in the Bahamas in 2017, blamed a lack of practice for the host’s poor start in the second race.
“We definitely looked a little bit rusty on that last one — it’s no secret we haven’t raced for a little while,” he said.
“One mistake and your life’s pretty hard for the rest of the race.”
‘Exciting times ahead’
The Kiwi syndicate entered as the short-priced favourite with bookmakers and some pundits predicting a 7-0 whitewash in their favour, even though they had not raced competitively since warm-up events in late December.
Luna Rossa were match-hardened after brushing aside rival challengers American Magic and Ineos Team UK for the right to race Team NZ for yachting’s most prestigious trophy.
In the first race, Team NZ gained an edge during the pre-start after aggressive manoeuvering from Burling, sparking cheers from spectators watching on the Auckland waterfront.
The New Zealanders went around the first mark 14 seconds ahead of Luna Rossa, and extended their advantage to 31 seconds by the finish in a convincing display.
Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni said the Italians did not perform well enough at the start, but they made amends in the second race, taking a 13-second lead on the first leg.
They appeared to take control of the race after a poorly executed tack by Team NZ but the Kiwis stormed back.
They slashed Luna Rossa’s lead from 12 seconds to seven but the Italians desperately held on.
Burling remained confident the Team New Zealand yacht had enough advantages over its Italian rival to prevail.
“I’m pretty happy we’ve got a tool here that we can win this thing with,” he said.
But Bruni said the regatta was poised to be a closely contested battle, not the one-sided affair tipped by many experts.
“The performance of the boats seems to be pretty close, so there are exciting times ahead,” he said.
“They’re not going to just stand back and watch, they’ll fight hard and we’ll fight hard — it’s going to be a great America’s Cup.”