America’s Cup 2021: Blow for Team New Zealand as practice races abandoned

By Michael Burgess

Team New Zealand didn’t get a chance to flex their muscles on Monday, after INEOS Team UK pulled out of their scheduled trial race before the start.

After practising unopposed last Friday – as all three challengers elected to stay ashore, for various reasons – it was another mostly unproductive session for the Kiwis, in terms of boat-on-boat duels.

But the mysterious problems plaguing the British team continued and their unresolved issues are fast becoming the most intriguing story in the build up to the America’s Cup World Series later this week.

After taking no part in trials last week – due to an unspecified hardware problem – Ben Ainslie’s team looked ready to go on Tuesday, heading out with the other three teams to Course A, situated between Rangitoto Island and the East Coast Bays.

They commenced the pre-start manoeuvres against Team New Zealand, but pulled the pin less than two minutes into that phase. It appeared that they stopped soon after completing a single gybe.

The British boat, which is backed by the largest single sponsorship in sailing history, then headed back to their Viaduct harbour base under tow, while Te Rehutai completed one leg of the course.

It means the British team have only one more chance to complete a trial race (Tuesday) before Thursday’s World Series start.

Team New Zealand’s scheduled first trialon Monday – also against the British – was abandoned to the lack of wind on a frustrating afternoon on Auckland harbour.

The only consolation for the Kiwi syndicate was that they at least banked more valuable time on the water, and again looked slick in their brief period on the course.

Peter Burling’s team have also proceeded through four practice days without any breakages or hardware issues, in contrast to the other teams.

Light, fluky winds meant only one trial was completed on Monday, but it was heartening for Luna Rossa fans.

In breezes of between eight to ten knots it was an impressive performance from Jimmy Spithill and his crew, edging American Magic off the start and extending their lead on both legs.

It’s way too early to draw any definite conclusions, and syndicates have different goals within the practice racing, as they try things out. But this trial backed up a general consensus that Luna Rossa will be strong in the lighter airs, while Patriot may be better in heavier conditions, as the New York-backed team have looked good training in 20 knots or more in recent weeks.

On Monday Luna Rossa won the start and were ahead by around 10 seconds at the first mark. Dean Barker and the Americans tried to make inroads but were unable to close the gap.

The Europeans had extended their advantage by the second mark to approximately 30 seconds, before the trial finished.

The challengers are still on the learning curve, in what is an incremental process ahead of the expected peak for the Prada Cup in January and February next year.

“Every day when you are going out you learn something new and we are just at the beginning of these races,” Luna Rossa chief executive Max Sirena told the Herald last week.

“We know the improvement is going to be huge in all the teams and the performance of the boat is going to change according to the weather and wind strength.”

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