Emirates Team New Zealand is setting a torrid pace at the Cascais AC Match Race Championship, the third stage of the AC World Series competition, leading after the first day of the series.
Following a two-hour postponement due to unusually light and fickle winds in Cascais, the three seeding fleet races were packed with thrills and spills, the most dramatic of which was a start line collision between ORACLE Racing Coutts
and the Kiwis.
The day would culminate with a one-on-one duel between the Emirates team and the American defender, ORACLE Racing Spithill
- the first match race of the America's Cup World Series. At stake was top spot on the day, and the race didn't disappoint with the lead passing back and forth until late in the match.
Barker, the Kiwi skipper, stormed away off the starting line to lead at the first mark, only to see the American team find a shift on the opposite side of the race course. By the bottom gate, ETNZ was in the lead again. But approaching the halfway point of the race, there was an important cross between the two boats, which resulted in a classic match racing set piece, giving the advantage back to Spithill.
The ping-pong battle continued on the second lap of the course until Emirates Team New Zealand
was able to hook into a favorable wind shift and finally shake the ORACLE Racing
boat for good. The Kiwis would end the afternoon with top points on the day, with Spithill settling for second place.
"The guys on board are doing a fantastic job on crewing,"
Barker said. "Yes, you make mistakes and it's frustrating that you make them… And not that you are afraid, but these boats are very, very, hard on the crew. But there is an improvement since Auckland, we are getting more comfortable in the multihull environment which is an improvement."
The three seeding fleet races were no less exciting than the final match. Team Korea continues to impress, finishing the day ranked third, while France's Energy Team is fourth.
"The best bit of the day was our first race where we had two penalties on the first downwind and sailed a really good second downwind to get back into the race,"
said Chris Draper the Korean skipper. "While the other races were really good, that was probably the highlight of the day."
The big collision between Coutts and Barker came in the pre-start of the second race, when Cup-legend Coutts tried to box the Emirates team out of the start line. But his move was too aggressive and resulted in a collision and a penalty to the ORACLE Racing squad. "It put a lot of pressure on the skin… We'll have to repair it tonight and be ready for tomorrow,"
Cascais AC Match Race Championship - Seeding points
Place / Team / Day One Points
1 Emirates Team New Zealand 10
2 ORACLE Racing Spithill 9
3 Team Korea 8
4 Energy Team 7
5 Artemis Racing 6
6 ORACLE Racing Coutts 5
7 Aleph 4
8 China Team 3
9 Green Comm Racing 3