Team New Zealand reached match point in the America’s Cup Tuesday but were denied a chance to clinch the trophy when fickle winds forced the day’s second race to be abandoned.
The hosts staged a come-from-behind win in race nine to extend their lead over Luna Rossa to 6-3, needing just one more victory to seal the best-of-13 series.
But inconsistent winds meant race 10 on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour was held over until Wednesday.
“We are abandoning for the day, the breeze has gone massively left and unfortunately we can’t re-lay the course in time,” the race committee announced.
The decision provided an anti-climatic end to the day for tens of thousands of Aucklanders who lined the foreshores hoping to see Team New Zealand claim yachting’s most prestigious trophy.
Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill also expressed frustration, saying he had wanted the chance to claw back Team New Zealand’s lead.
“We were ready to go,” he said.
In a thrilling opening race, the lead changed five times in shifting winds.
Luna Rossa, desperate to keep the series alive, were in front most of the way before the New Zealanders made a decisive late charge on the fifth leg of six.
Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling said he enjoyed the helter-skelter contest but was coy on the prospect of retaining the trophy the Kiwis won in Bermuda in 2017.
‘Chin up and keep fighting’ –
“It’s good fun racing, great to be out here having a battle with a really good team, great to get another win too,” he said.
Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni was disappointed at the result but refused to concede the Italians’ campaign was over.
“Unfortunately that was a painful one, but chin up and keep fighting,” he said.
“We couldn’t get every shift right and we missed this opportunity.”
Team New Zealand entered the regatta as heavy favourites but Luna Rossa matched them in the early stages, taking the scores to 3-3.
The hosts then found an extra gear and rode their luck at times to win three in a row, meaning the Italians must capture all four remaining races to lift the “Auld Mug”, the oldest trophy in international sport.
Team NZ will be mindful, however, of 2013, when Spithill, now Luna Rossa’s co-helmsman, orchestrated Oracle Team USA’s dramatic recovery from 8-1 down to win 9-8 in San Francisco.
Facing a similar doomsday scenario in Auckland, the combative Australian displayed the same never-say-die attitude.
“I’m excited, I’m honestly excited,” he said.
“We were disappointed in the race today but there was no negative energy when we came back to the dock.
“I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow, I wish we could do it right now.”