Emirates Team New Zealand won the first round robin at the Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice Côte d'Azur despite losing the anticipated showdown match against Britain's TeamOrigin.
TeamOrigin, with founder and CEO Sir Keith Mills riding as 18th man, won the thrilling race by 32 seconds. That gave the British team an opportunity to win the round robin outright, but it dropped to third when it lost to Italy's Azzurra in its second match of the day.
Azzurra's 1-minute triumph put it tied with Team New Zealand for the lead at 6-1, but the Kiwis won by beating Azzurra in flight five. TeamOrigin placed third with a 5-2 record.
"It was always going to be a tough match against TeamOrigin," said Emirates Team New Zealand skipper, Dean Barker
(NZL). "It was disappointing to lose the race, but you always learn more in your losses than your wins. We're pleased with the way we're sailing and we can do better."
While the top three spots on the leaderboard are set, fourth through sixth remain up for grabs. There's one match outstanding to complete the round, between BMW ORACLE Racing and Synergy, and it is tomorrow's scheduled first match. It was abandoned today when the 20-minute leg time limit ran out on the first run.
The match has significant implications for the standings. If BMW Oracle wins it places fourth and Synergy finishes sixth behind Sweden's Artemis. But if Synergy wins the three teams become tied at 3-4. The tiebreaker would place Artemis fourth, Synergy fifth and BMW Oracle sixth.
The French and German team ALL4ONE is seventh with a 2-5 record and TFS - Pages Jaunes is eighth at 0-7.
The standings are important because the second half of the regatta has been changed. Due to time constraints a half round robin will be conducted with the top four teams racing the bottom four teams. Each team has four matches scheduled before the semi finals and knock-out rounds begin next Thursday.
Today's few matches showcased aggressive match racing with afterguards frequently seeking penalties on their opponent.
Team New Zealand and TeamOrigin took split tacks onto the racecourse. The key moment came at their third meeting near the top of the 1.3 nautical-mile leg. Approaching on opposite tacks, TeamOrigin held the starboard advantage and used it to dial down Team New Zealand. When the Kiwis got to the right TeamOrigin made a slam-dunk tack and pinned the Kiwis to leeward.
Moments later both boats were luffing head-to-wind with Team New Zealand to the right. TeamOrigin fell off onto starboard tack, built speed, tacked to port and sailed over the bow of Team New Zealand to round in the lead by 21 seconds en route to the victory.
"We have a huge amount of respect for Dean and all the guys at Team New Zealand," said Ben Ainslie
(GBR), TeamOrigin skipper. "Having spent a lot of time there sailing with those guys in the last America's Cup, it's always nice to have a good race with them, and to come away with a win was good. It was a very tight race."
After the big win TeamOrigin had to take on Azzurra to win the round. Origin had the lead at the first mark by 37 seconds after getting a red-flag penalty on the Italian crew. But the Italians, having performed the penalty, found a nice wind shift with pressure on the run and turned the deficit into an advantage they wouldn't relinquish.
"I don't disagree with the penalty, but I don't think it should have been a red flag," said Azzurra skipper Francesco Bruni
(ITA). "My brother [Gabriele Bruni
] has been doing a great job calling the wind from up the rig."
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