HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand made a flying start in the America’s Cup final with two wins over Oracle Team USA which left the Kiwis 1-0 ahead after the first day of racing in Bermuda’s Great Sound on Saturday.
The New Zealand team’s double victory erased a one-point advantage the U.S. team earned in an earlier regatta and gave them an early lead as they showed superior speed over the defending champions in the opening races.
”We were far from our best today .... we need to sharpen up and that’s what we’ll focus on tonight, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill told a news conference.
The two wins gave New Zealand a psychological boost as the Kiwis try to win the “Auld Mug” back after losing to Oracle in San Francisco in 2013.
“Day one is massive, it’s the most important day, if someone comes out with a speed advantage, psychologically that’s huge for the rest of the series,” said Ben Ainslie, skipper of Land Rover BAR at a morning briefing.
The first direct comparison of the 50-foot catamaran’s performance has been much anticipated in the first-to-seven competition. Both teams have modified their boats and the two light wind duels showed the Kiwis’ pace.
Peter Burling, 26, the helmsman of Emirates Team New Zealand won both of the starts against Jimmy Spithill, despite having less match racing experience, which has earned the Kiwi team a reputation as underdogs.
“It was fantastic to win both starts, I‘m really happy for the guys,” New Zealand skipper Glenn Ashby said.
In light easterly winds, the New Zealand team’s foils, which lift the boat out of the water at speed, appeared to be more efficient, consolidating the Kiwis’ reputation as light wind specialists.
Oracle Team USA were over the line in the first start, allowing New Zealand to gain an advantage and extend their lead during the race, despite an uncomfortable moment at the last mark, when the Kiwis came off their foils.
“I‘m not happy with how we sailed today, even though we’ve got two points on the board,” Burling said.
The second race saw a tense start, which was also won by New Zealand. The Kiwis led for much of the race, despite Oracle closing to three seconds after a wind shift put them back in touch.
Oracle fell back, however, allowing the New Zealand team to secure their second win.
After going into the competition one point down, the New Zealanders needed to win eight races to win the America’s Cup, the world’s oldest international sporting competition.
A win by the Kiwis would deny the U.S. crew their third successive win. The New Zealanders have massive support at home, where sailing is a national sport.
“Oracle is a multinational team and they’re not wearing their heart on their sleeve perhaps as much as the Kiwis and when it gets to those key moments when its all on the line, who is going to be more motivated to win it?,” Ainslie said.
The New Zealanders are well aware that it is possible not to win the America’s Cup despite an early advantage, after being 8-1 up in San Francisco four years ago before losing to Oracle.
Editing by Ed Osmond