GREAT SOUND, Bermuda (Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand sailed into a revenge match against holders Oracle Team USA for the 35th America’s Cup by convincingly beating Sweden’s Artemis Racing 5-2 in the Challenger final in Bermuda on Monday.
New Zealand are looking to avenge their humbling defeat by the U.S. team in San Francisco in 2013 when they were on the losing end of one of the greatest ever sporting comebacks.
With their striking black, red and white hulls and “wing” foil and revolutionary “cycling” system for powering their on-board hydraulics, the New Zealand team led by Glenn Ashby and helmed by Peter Burling have been hot favourites throughout.
They bounced back from a near-catastrophic capsize last week when racing Land Rover BAR, getting their 50-foot (15 metre) catamaran and towering wing foil repaired in time to beat the British crew and progress to the Challenger final.
Although Artemis Racing put up a keen fight, the New Zealand crew consistently had the edge in pace and manoeuvrability, with Burling calmly driving his high-speed craft around Bermuda’s Great Sound as his “cyclors” pedalled non-stop to provide the power needed to control the vast “cat”.
There were celebrations aboard the New Zealand catamaran after they crossed the line nearly a minute ahead of the Swedish boat after an earlier race had to be abandoned when the wind dropped away and left both teams drifting.
But the wind held for the second race and after getting the better of Sweden’s skipper Nathan Outteridge at the start, Burling, the youngest helmsman in the competition, sailed superbly to take the win from his long-time rival.
“The boat is going seriously fast... we feel we are in great shape to take on Oracle now,” Burling told BT Sport, while also paying tribute to the fight put up by Artemis in sometimes challenging conditions for the foiling catamarans, which lift up out of the water and “fly” at up to 50 knots.
The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Match, which is a first-to-seven race event, is due to start on June 17. Oracle Team USA will start with a one race “bonus” as they were the winners of the qualifying series in which they were allowed to compete.
Only the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland have won the trophy known as the “Auld Mug” since the schooner “America” first claimed it in British waters in 1851.
The Swedish crew skippered by Australian sailing star Outteridge and managed by British Olympian Iain Percy needed to win three races in a row to overhaul Burling’s New Zealand.
Outteridge, 31, and Burling, 26, were more accustomed to head-to-head battles in relatively tiny two-man 49er skiffs.
While Outteridge won Olympic gold in 2012, Burling got his revenge in 2016 in Rio, relegating his rival to silver.
Both men have been sailing with their 49er partners in the America’s Cup competition, with Burling’s crew Blair Tuke joining him in the New Zealand boat and Outteridge’s team mate Iain Jensen aboard the Artemis catamaran as a “grinder”.
Writing by Alexander Smith in London; Editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon