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36th America's Cup Day 5: The Mental Game

by Hamish Hooper, Emirates Team New Zealand 15 Mar 22:00 NZDT 10-17 March 2021
America's Cup match day 5 - Emirates Team New Zealand catches Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli as she wallows off the foils © ACE / Studio Borlenghi

After a day of no racing yesterday, both teams re-set for Races 7 & 8 today on three wins apiece, and with the pressure building to break the deadlock in the 36th America's Cup presented by Prada, the mental game becomes more intense.

For the eleven athletes racing onboard Te Rehutai they thrive in these situations, and clear thinking and staying cool under extreme pressure is their trademark. As Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling calmly commented before leaving the dock, "Every day is important and every race is incredibly important - it is a very tight event, where we are learning a lot all the time. So it really is about going out and executing what we know."

With a stronger breeze forecast out on racecourse E today, the on-water game of chess featuring move and subtle countermove, particularly in the key pre-start area will be significant. Competitor and coach, spectator and supporter - all are feeling the tension building. This is after all, the toughest prize in sailing, the 36th America's Cup presented by Prada - it is not for the faint hearted.

Race 7

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli entered the start box first, and as we have seen in all the pre-starts, headed to the right hand boundary. Pulling back in they sailed high, rolled down, then slid to windward and crossed the line slightly to windward and faster than Emirates Team New Zealand.

Rounding the top mark first by 8 seconds, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were looking to extend - and this they did by 2 seconds, but it was close, and after rounding the bottom gate headed out to the left hand side of the course. Over to the right hand side Emirates Team New Zealand sensed a right hand shift on leg three and they used it, accelerating with their smaller and flatter jib they started the fight back. Half way up leg three, after being allowed into clean air, we saw Te Rehutai light the turbo's and shift up a gear, coming back in from the right hand side and sailing over the top of the Italians.

For the rest of that leg, the key was cover tacking on Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli leaving options open for Burling and crew whilst shutting them down for the chasing boat. Leg 4 saw Emirates Team New Zealand simply light-up the boat and accelerate ahead. Turning a 10 second deficit into a 19 second lead, they used the width of the course to extend. A left hand wind shift made legs 5 & 6 easier to defend, and Emirates Team New Zealand stayed focused leading by 900 metres, and winning Race 7 by 58 seconds.

Asked how big a deal it was for the team to win Race 7, Te Rehutai skipper Peter Burling said "every race is big - we are pleased with our learning. We almost got them off the start - it was close, then we just kept digging deep and gave ourselves an opportunity, it was great to get a pass - and then to extend was pretty pleasing as well."

Race 8

Featured the biggest moments of the 36th America's Cup presented by Prada so far - and one of the most astonishing races in recent America's Cup history. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli did well at the start then sailed high forcing Emirates Team New Zealand away to the unfavoured right side of the course. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli stretched it out with their bigger jib as the breeze got lighter. With the Italians ahead on Leg 2, Emirates Team New Zealand were gaining, but halfway down the leg gybed in bad air then dropped off their foils - seemingly a disaster for Burling and his crew.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli sailed away at 33 knots extending their lead to 2,300 metres as the Cup defenders struggled in displacement mode - but in these light and patchy conditions nothing was certain. What followed was a testament to the resilience, skill and patience of the entire crew on Te Rehutai. Focusing on boat speed, they slowly accelerated, eased the boat out of the water, and kept it that way - fully aware that one mistake would mean painful minutes back in displacement mode trying to recover.

Ahead by 4 minutes and eight seconds on leg 3, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli tacked high on the course, and in the soft conditions struggled - then dropped off their foils and that was the beginning of the end for the Challengers in Race 8. Struggling to build speed in the patchy conditions they rounded the top gate in displacement mode at 6 knots then sailed out of the course boundaries receiving multiple penalties for doing so, trying everything they could to accelerate. Suddenly it was game on again as Emirates Team New Zealand tacked back up the course in hot pursuit at 22 knots knowing full well the risks of one mistake as the conditions softened even further.

With the breeze dropping, the race committee shortened the course to five legs, and with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli reaching back and forth to try to gain speed, Burling nailed the critical tack at 20 knots, sailed through the top gate and headed downwind at 30 knots - but it was far from over.

With conditions firmer further down the course Emirates Team New Zealand used every ounce of skill in their after guard to spot the breeze and sail to it. With Te Rehutai's hull just touching the water in the downwind gybes they managed to stay flying, and round the bottom gate 2500 metres ahead for the final upwind leg. The closer they got to the finish line, the more the nerves increased with the spectators and fans ashore. Heading out to the top right hand side, Burling nailed it, over-standing the lay line to head in fast to cross the line at 29 knots, winning Race 8 by 3.55.

For Jimmy Spithill on Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, Race 8 was a tough result, "we were out in front, but it was never in the bag - we came to the top of the course, it went light, we fell off the foils and were stuck for some time..."

Flight controller onboard Emirates Team New Zealand Blair Tuke commented, "We made a costly error gybing behind them - but we just stuck at it. We were on the wrong sized jib and all the boys went right to the end there. A huge effort from the team. We knew there was a chance they could come off the foils and we just kept on going."

To be behind at both starts and win two races today was a phenomenal effort from Burling and his crew onboard Emirates Team New Zealand who head into tomorrows race day with a 5-3 lead to Race 9 & 10 in this phenomenal event, and another massive day ahead for both teams.

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