America’s Cup 2021: Phil Robertson – The biggest surprise from the first two races between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa

OPINION:

We’ve got a genuine America’s Cup match on our hands.

After the first two races – on a day which threw up a few surprises – we’ve got two boats who are both capable of winning races. In the history of the America’s Cup this is actually quite rare.

I don’t think Team New Zealand are in trouble. But it is game on.

The defenders are being described as “rusty”, after a long break from actual racing. I’d prefer to say they aren’t battle-hardened.

In race one, Team NZ nailed the start, were five knots faster than Luna Rossa off the line, and in a dominant position. Race two was a role reversal.

Team New Zealand’s pre-start error played a big part in that second race defeat, a relief for the team because this means it is something which can be corrected.

Luna Rossa are obviously a bit more race practiced than Team NZ, but I also think the TNZ sailing team are good enough to catch up and potentially get better at starting.

It wasn’t that Luna Rossa did a better job – Team NZ made a mistake.

They were late to push Luna Rossa back to the line, and that goes back to the decision made when they chose to tack around, instead of gybing, which put them further away from Luna Rossa.

There isn’t a lot of time but TNZ are a young team and very adaptable. They can adjust overnight from that sort of mistake.

However, Luna Rossa clearly have a boat which is fast enough to win races, and this surprised me.

They have a very different package to Te Rehutai so the expectation is that one will be faster in certain conditions, and the other will hold the advantage in different conditions.

But that wasn’t the case on day one.

I was also surprised at how close Luna Rossa stayed in the match during race one. They never lost more than 300 metres in five of the six laps. That’s a sign your boat is competitive.

Yes, the TNZ boat looks slightly faster, but it’s not enough to sail around Luna Rossa in the short tight course parameters.

Course E is probably easier to defend on than the likes of Course C, which has bigger wind and shift oscillations.

Course C – which can’t be used during Covid-19 alert level 2 – is the one which will provide the most lead changes. (This is the course on which Luna Rossa and Ineos Team UK had their classic duel during the Prada Cup round robin).

But whatever the course, the story of day one is confirmation of how important the starts are. Getting off the line even or better is key.

You can’t win a race in the two minutes before a start, but you can lose one.

The forecast for Friday and Saturday is for lighter breeze. I’m expecting a lot more aggression in the pre-start from both teams, to make sure they are in a good positon to race.

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.

• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.

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