America's Cup legend John Bertrand has been stunned by Team New Zealand's rapid development in the radical new catamarans but believes they will need to squeeze even more out of their boat over the next few weeks to lift the Auld Mug from Oracle.
Bertrand, the man who ended 132 years of American dominance when he skippered Australia II to victory in 1983, watched the Kiwis rip to a 5-1 Louis Vuitton Cup lead over Luna Rossa yesterday and can't see anything stopping the Kiwis marching into the main event.
Weather permitting, the challengers' series should wrap up with today's two races. Then it's the big dance in San Francisco, a best-of-17-race America's Cup match against Oracle, starting in a fortnight.
While the Kiwis have looked superb in dominating Luna Rossa with their outright speed and teamwork, Oracle have been raising the bar in practice.
"The development is so rapid, there is no plateau," warned Bertrand, who has kept an eye on both camps. "It's another world. No-one has seen anything like it. But the action will be in the next two weeks . . . either team (Team New Zealand or Oracle) can make the next breakthrough and generate the next two to three or five knots of speed."
Team New Zealand and Oracle are already taking that next step, both openly displaying their ability to foil upwind.
It may be that who can master this best will take an edge into the title match.
Or as Bertrand says: "The question now is, what is the low speed it's going to happen at. These guys are getting better and better at it."
The Kiwis have always been quick downwind, especially as their proficiency of the foiling gybe has grown to be second nature. Yesterday they put the equivalent of 35 boat lengths on Luna Rossa in the first downwind leg.
But it was on the next upwind leg that the telling moment came, when they raised Aotearoa on her foils into the 14 to 16 knots of breeze and instantly jumped to 29.2 knots.
It was almost like hitting a turbo button, giving the Kiwis a gain of around 200m but also taking them quickly to a better place on the course from which to take advantage.
All the time Team New Zealand are improving their angles with this difficult manoeuvre, attacking the next mark better and better. It showed later with statistics revealing the Italians had to cover an extra 875m over the course.
Skipper Dean Baker was reluctant to reveal too much about this upwind development after the race, though admitted they had done some experimenting on that leg yesterday.
"The boat's going well, we seem to have our modes figured out on the winds. We're always learning.
"We were mucking around at one stage on the upwind leg. It's quite interesting the way the boat responds in different conditions. We just have to keep improving and get consistent with the right mode calls for the right time and how it factors in on the course."
Luna Rossa were resigned to their fate after yesterday's 1min 57sec loss. "It would have been nice if we had a better start, but the cold reality is they are going to sail past us. It's pretty frustrating," Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper said.
"It's not the mistakes we are making now on the course but the mistakes we made months and months ago. We all feel that," he said in reference to their sailing the equivalent of a first generation Kiwi boat under their design-sharing agreement with Team New Zealand.
That was a point skipper Max Sirena emphasised: "For sure they are great sailors, but I'd like to swap boats with them tomorrow and see what happens."
Too late Max, it's now a matter of whether Team New Zealand or Oracle have the right boat.
BY THE NUMBERS
29.2 knots – Top speed Team New Zealand hit foiling into the wind yesterday
17 – Races that could determine next month's America's Cup if it goes the distance. The first team to nine wins
56 – Age of Team New Zealand chief executive Grant Dalton, who also has a role as a grinder on the boat
- © Fairfax NZ News