America’s Cup 2021: The under-the-radar sign that bodes well for Team New Zealand against Luna Rossa

Team New Zealand believe they have improved considerably since the start of the America’s Cup match – but are also confident there is a lot more to come.

Ahead of this series, the trade-off was simple.

Luna Rossa were match-hardened – with 24 races under their belt, including 18 this year alone – while Team New Zealand had maximised development time, but had only six competitive races last December to fall back on.

Given the steep learning curve with the complex AC75s, time on the water has become the vital factor, especially as the boats are much closer than most expected, with the series locked at 3-3, after another day of split wins (Luna Rossa 0:18, Team New Zealand 1:41)

The defenders admitted they were “rusty” on the opening day, but have progressed significantly since, with a critical pre-start manoeuvre in the second race sealing a win that levelled the scoreboard.

But from a regatta perspective, the performance in race five could be almost as significant. In light breezes, said to favour Luna Rossa, the Kiwi crew kept the race close, and made impressive gains on three legs, perhaps an under-the-radar demonstration of their progress.

“We have been saying all along we are really happy with our boat,” said helmsman Peter Burling. “It’s no secret in that lighter air these boats dig a pretty big hole in the wind so it’s hard to keep the game close. We felt like we really improved the way we sailed that race, to be able to keep it within 20 seconds or so. We were in that one-mistake realm.

“We have improved quite a bit in that lighter air and we definitely feel like each race we go into we come out with a whole heap of learnings,” said Burling. “Every situation is different, each breeze is different, and it is really about learning as best you can.”

Grinder and offside control Josh Junior, one of four crew members on the communications loop with Burling during a race, agreed that things are getting more comfortable on Te Rehutai.

“You can sail the boat in different modes, and we are just playing around how to do it and getting better and better,” said Junior. “We haven’t done a lot of racing, so each race we learn a lot. We are excited to get out there and keep moving forward.”

Saturday was a litmus test for the defenders. After dropping the first race, they recovered to record the biggest win of the series, averting a potential 4-2 deficit, though Junior deflected talk of pressure.

“It’s amazing to be racing on home waters,” said Junior, who was stunned by the flotilla of 1600 spectator boats, believed to be a record. “From a pressure side I don’t really feel it, it’s more about performing and executing what we know.”

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.

• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.

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