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Who's going to not blink first?

by Mark Jardine 13 Mar 05:40 GMT 10-17 March 2021
America's Cup match day 3 - Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli gybe in the pre-start of race 5 © ACE / Studio Borlenghi

It's becoming abundantly clear that in this America's Cup if you win the start then you go a long way to winning the race. The 20-odd minutes of racing when you fluff it must feel like a lifetime, knowing you've effectively lost the race with one poor decision in the two minutes available after entering the start box.

Time on distance becomes paramount when both boats line up on their final approach for the start line. Combined with that is positioning to ensure you're coming into the line at the right angle, giving you options against your opponent.

In light winds the 'hook' is out of the question. If you drop to leeward of an AC75 then the wind shadow is huge, so it's all about finding your line in a split second, giving yourself those options and, most critically, not falling off the foils.

In race five the Kiwis fell into the trap of being high and early, having to lose too much speed, dropping into displacement mode and losing the start. You could hear the panic in Blair Tuke's voice as they approached the start line. He knew it was 20 minutes of pain ahead for him, his long-time sailing partner and helmsman Peter Burling, and the entire Emirates Team New Zealand crew, the wider team out on the water and ashore and every single Kiwi watching the race.

There's no doubt the defender's AC75 is fast. Gains were being made on the upwind legs, despite having their course dictated to them by Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, and having to live in their dirty wind for long periods of time - you simply can't do that in a slow boat.

With the Virtual Eye coverage we're given all the statistics and Emirates Team New Zealand is faster and their VMG is higher, but if you're behind and don't have a high mode then you're forced to sail further. Luna Rossa's winning margin was 18 seconds, which is nothing when you take into consideration that the Kiwis sailed 1500 metres more than the Italians.

Francesco Bruni said in-between races, "We have the more flexible package. Emirates Team New Zealand seem to be forced to sail higher numbers. We have a high mode, we have a fast mode."

So, the momentum swung once again back to Luna Rossa, but could they make it stick and take a 4-2 lead at the end of the day?

In the race six pre-start Emirates Team New Zealand called for the tack whereas Luna Rossa went for a gybe in a light wind spot as they lined up for their final approach. This proved key with the Kiwis rolling over the Italians who were struggling to reach the line. Burling nailed the time on distance to take a massive lead. From here it was plain sailing for the defenders to win by 1 minute 41 seconds and even up the score again.

Both winners today had starboard entry into the start box, going against the port entry winners from the previous days' winners... that's another theory out the window.

It's been discussed how the America's Cup is Formula One on water. If that's the case then this edition is akin to the Monaco Grand Prix, where passing lanes are like hen's teeth. In Formula One the start is decided in qualifying, placing the fastest cars and drivers at the front of the grid. In the America's Cup one crucial decision in those two minutes before the start can make or break a race, which is exactly what we've seen so far.

Due to this we're witnessing an America's Cup where the fastest boat may not win.

An oft-used phrase in sport is who's going to blink first, but we've seen both Peter Burling and Jimmy Spithill blink repeatedly. Their eyes may be hidden by their goggles, but the question is who's going to not blink for an entire race day and take the advantage in this match up, or is it going to go all the way to race 13?

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