America’s Cup 2021: Michael Burgess – The rivalry that could save the battle for the Auld Mug


The Brits bomb, the Kiwis fly and the Americans are here to play.

They were the conclusions from a strange first day of the America’s Cup World Series.

There were three completely one-sided races – two involving the struggling INEOS Team UK who suffered more gear failure – before a spectacular battle between American Magic and Team New Zealand, with Dean Barker edging a brilliant contest.

That would have been a relief for the organisers, as there will be at least one genuine rivalry over the coming months.

The Americans were slick and it’s also hard to avoid the hyperbole about Team New Zealand in these early days.

In the first official outing between the AC75 foiling monohulls yesterday, the defenders lived up to expectations.

They enjoyed a demolition of Luna Rossa in the opening race, a genuine slaughter on the water. They were brought back down to earth against American Magic in the 12-second loss, though there were technical issues on the local boat early, as they fell off the foils on several occasions.

It shows that nothing is cut and dried with these highly complicated vessels, but at first glance Te Rehutai looked like it will be everything the designers would have hoped for.

It’s a rocket ship, a missile, a weapon on the water. And Peter Burling and his crew showed against the Italians especially they have the ability to get the best out of her.

That become clear around 3.20pm on Thursday afternoon, within a couple of minutes of the start against Luna Rossa, as Te Rehutai accelerated away, fizzing along above the water.

The Italians weren’t going slow, but it was a Fiat against a Ferrari.

The boats had made an even start, though Burling had got over the top of Jimmy Spithill in the last period of the pre-start.

There was a big split early on and Team New Zealand made good ground on the left hand side of the course, thanks to a handy wind shift.

They were ahead by 41 seconds at gate one and led by more than a minute (1:13) at the end of the first lap.

Nothing had changed after the second lap (1:17) and it was obvious that Team New Zealand have something special under the hood.

Their advantage was 1.3 kilometres as they rounded the mark for the last time (2:38), and it was procession to the finish, with the final margin of 3:13.

Their second race was a different journey. Barker won the start and controlled the race, and Team New Zealand had some uncharacteristically poor manoeuvres while American Magic looked smooth and slick.

But the New Zealanders never gave up, and gained ground on the last few legs, with a gripping tacking duel on the fifth leg.

They grabbed the lead back with a brilliant move around the final mark but bungled a gybe to give up their hard-won advantage.

But it was an impressive fightback and it’s the kind of race they will learn a lot from, and the perfect trial needed in this America’s Cup World Series.

“We didn’t make life easy for ourselves [but] to make that many mistakes and still be in the race was pretty pleasing for the weeks ahead,” explained Burling.

The other opening day theme was the continuing problems for INEOS Team UK.

After multiple issues during the trial period, Ben Ainslie’s team had a nightmare on Thursday.

They almost didn’t start their first race against American Magic – only just fixing a problem with their foil control system – but they didn’t last long.

The British team crashed off their foils spectacularly just after a gybe on the first lap and their race was effectively over.

Britannia II gamely continued on but looked edgy rounding each mark – like a learner ice skater tottering around a rink – and clearly have a lot of work ahead.

By the time they crossed the line you needed an abacus for the margin, which wasn’t actually recorded as they were more than five minutes behind.

Their feeling of doom and gloom was exacerbated after their second race, when they suffered a mechanical breakdown just after the first mark, believed to be a problem with their foil cant system.

They limped back to base – with no doubt some blue language on board, while Luna Rossa completed the race by themselves.

“I’ve had better days…but this is the America’s Cup,” said Ainslie, sagely after the race.

The British helmsman admitted they had endured problems with the foil cant system “all day” but hoped it was fixable for Friday’s racing.

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