Team NZ helmsman Peter Burling hits start box bullseye against Jimmy Spithill
Peter Burling has shown he's a fast learner as he cleaned out Jimmy Spithill in the starting box for a fourth time to help Team New Zealand take a firm grip on the America's Cup match.
The starting box was an area of concern for the Kiwis during the round-robin and challenger playoffs in Bermuda with the 26-year-old Burling's inexperience at match-racing being exposed in this key zone.
But plenty of attention has been paid to this area with Burling working hard with coaches Rod Davis, Murray Jones and Ray Davies, as well as his afterguard.
The gains have been swift and remarkable and have quickly negated what was seen as a huge advantage area for the aggressive Spithill on the wheel of the Oracle Team USA boat.
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Two victories on the start line on Sunday were followed by two more on Monday and helped the Kiwis to four consecutive wins and a 3-0 lead on the scoreboard.
The modest Burling was playing down his personal development in this zone, putting the improvements down to growing performance gains by his crew in general.
"They (Oracle) pushed us hard in the prestart but we are really happy with the way the guys on board kept finding ways to sneak out of the situations," Burling said.
The prestart success on Monday came as Burling twice fought off Spithill and then found greater acceleration off the line to reach the first mark in front. They even managed to overcome a daggerboard malfunction less than a minute out from the start of the second race to recover and regain ascendancy.
The Kiwis haven't lost a race in Bermuda when they have led at the first mark.
Burling says the excitment factor of his young crew is keeping them fresh and hungry. Skipper Glenn Ashby, 39, is the only survivor from San Francisco four years ago and the decision to invest in bright young talent is paying dividends.
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"We are excited to get out there and race," Burling said.
"The guys on the boat know each other really well and it just feels like we are getting tighter and tighter as a group and performing better and better under the more pressure we get put under.
"That's what you have to do to win yacht races – you have to perform under pressure."
And despite winning margins on Monday of 49s and 1m 12s, Burling was adamant they were still feeling plenty of pressure from the defenders. It was a matter of staying error-free and still seeking personal improvement.
"The way we are trying to keep pushing forward is full credit to how good the Oracle team is. Today it felt like they sailed really well," a gracious Burling said.
"The racing is actually really close. It feels like if you make one mistake or one too many mistakes they will fight back.
"We sailed well but we feel like we were far from perfect today. We have a lot to work on and improve on over the next few days but I'm sure the Oracle boys would say the same thing.
"It's a lot harder for them if we keep doing that. We know if we stand still, they will catch us."
Burling felt his crew had been "toughened" by their tussles with Britain and Sweden in the challenger playoffs and that was showing in the Cup match.
They know they have a fast boat – even Spithill finally admitted a Kiwi advantage in this telling department – and it's a matter of the crew enhancing that speed with slick work through their manoeuvres, general handling and course management.
"It does feel like our boat is going much quicker than it was a few weeks ago," Burling said.
"But we are far from where we want to be. We are really happy with the outcome from this weekend but we are going to be a lot better next weekend."