Team New Zealand and Italy's Luna Rossa became the first AC72s to race the official America's Cup course yesterday, with the Kiwis appearing to have a distinct speed advantage.
Continuing the close arrangement that has seen them share design technology and practice in Auckland, they created their own piece of history in San Francisco, going head-to-head around the stretch of water that will be used for racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series from July 7.
Information on the actual performance of the rivals was sketchy but TNZ were described as "very slick and controlled" by observers.
TNZ released a three-and-a-half minute video, but much longer "am-cam" footage shows the New Zealanders in control against their opponents. Both giant catamarans were foiling impressively in winds 13-15 knots.
The Kiwis are desperate to get to know the nuances of the tricky sailing conditions. After a couple of weeks of solo practice on the course, they say the way to improve is to take on an opponent.
"The only way to learn it is to race another boat or you don't know whether or not you are going the right way. So sailing against Luna Rossa is invaluable for us," TNZ boss Grant Dalton said.
Skipper Dean Barker was happy with yesterday's effort.
"It's good to get tangling up with another boat. It definitely gets your attention and, without question, it lifts the intensity and that's all you can ask for," Barker said.
"Being able to do that and work on manoeuvres which is all the important part . . . you have the other boat there and learning the situations that can arise is really going to be the key."
Meanwhile Paul Cayard, boss of the troubled Swedish syndicate Artemis, has promised his team won't lack fighting spirit as they look to bounce back from the tragic training accident.
"You know we got knocked down but we didn't get knocked out. So we're fighting to compete. There's a lot of successful people on this team and they didn't win gold medals and get to where they got by rolling over when the hill gets steep," Cayard told ABC7 News in the US yesterday.
Controversially deciding to withdraw from the first phase of round-robin racing and only contest the semifinals - a move that will be under the microscope of the International Jury looking at changes to the regatta following the death of Andrew Simpson - Cayard said time was their biggest obstacle.
"We're not going to have nearly as much training and practice as the other teams," said Cayard, especially trying to master the art of foiling.
"Do they (the crew) have enough time in the [72-footer] to, you know, understand the nuances of that to win races in that? I mean, I'd love to be able to tell you absolutely but we'll have to wait and see."
- Sunday Star Times
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