While you and I were celebrating Russia Day, in Bermuda the two finalists in the America's Cup playoff series, Peter Burling's Emirates Team New Zealand and Nathan Outridge's Artemis Racing, battled it out for the right to compete for the main trophy of the competition against current Cup holders, Jimmy Spithill's Oracle Team USA.
The teams put up a spectacular fight on the first day of the playoff series finale. In Saturday's first race, the Swedes were the first to arrive at the starting line, managing to develop good speed and outpacing their opponents by three boat lengths. But already on the first bottom gate the New Zealanders were able to reduce the distance to just five seconds. Then Artemis made a mistake, going out of bounds and earning a penalty. As a result, the Kiwis got the win.
In the second race Nathan Outridge again won the start, managing to take the leeward side. On the approach to the first mark he continued to successfully push the Kiwi boat to the windward side. Throughout the race, Burling kept right behind Ortridge, hoping he could overtake the Swede at speed. But Outridge and his tactician Ian Percy did their best to always stay between the New Zealanders and the next mark, pushing 'dirty' air into the Kiwi's sail-wing. The result of their efforts was a hard-fought victory with a 15-second advantage.
The fate of the third race was decided by an accident: while running to the other side, the Artemis Racing skipper slipped from the stern of his catamaran when the boat was making a turn and ended up in the water. As a result, the race, in which Artemis was leading with a minimal advantage, was lost and the score was 2:1 in favour of the Kiwis.
Team NZ managed to consolidate their lead on Sunday, winning two races out of three. The victories did not come easily for the New Zealanders, beating Artemis by just a second in their last match. The Swedes tactician Ian Percy correctly identified the weakness of the Kiwis: they are worse on the pre-start. Just like on the first day of the playoff series final, Artemis stuck to the following strategy: come to the starting line first, then keep the New Zealanders in front by constantly staying between them and the goal. This strategy worked in the first race of the day, even though the Artemis catamaran control system failed on the approach to the final mark, which caused the boat to rise hard on the foils and collapse into the water. The Swedes managed to recover quickly and win with a 15-second advantage.
The next two races, however, went by the Kiwi rules, whose boat proved to be more adapted to weak winds: by the end of the racing day the wind speed had dropped from 15 to 8 knots. In the final match Artemis nearly overtook Team NZ on the approach to the finish after the New Zealander's catamaran flew off the foils and ended up in the water. The Kiwis were saved by a sharper angle to the finish line.
The big question - who would be the rival Cup holders - was to be decided on Monday. The first team to score five points would advance to the final. All the New Zealanders had to do was to win the first race, which they did. The weather was to Team NZ's advantage with a weak wind at the limit of 6 knots. The organizers even had to postpone an already started race due to the lack of wind. When the race started for the second time, the Kiwis managed to take a strong leeward position on the approach to the start. For the first time in the final three days of the playoff series, Peter Burling's team was able to get around the first mark first. The advantage at the first gate was 19 seconds; it grew to nearly a minute at the finish line as the race progressed. The Kiwis were faster than their opponents in weak wind conditions.
America's Cup finals start on June 17. Team New Zealand will compete against Oracle Team USA for the right to possess the Cup. After the Kiwis suffered a defeat to the Americans in 2013, managing to turn a 1: 8 scoreline in favour of their rivals into a 9 :8 in their favour, Team NZ has been completely rebuilt. with only sail-wing trimmer Glenn Ashby remaining from the previous line-up. "We feel we are now in great shape to beat Oracle Team USA," said New Zealand skipper Peter Burling. - Artemis Racing have been great opponents. They really stepped us up. They prepared us well before the Cup final.