SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — The first real race of the America’s Cup challenger series was a runaway for Emirates Team New Zealand on Saturday even before it hit the starting line on San Francisco Bay.
Kiwi skipper Dean Barker trapped Italy’s Luna Rossa during the pre-start maneuvers and then accelerated, gaining a five-length lead approaching the starting line perpendicular to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Team New Zealand’s high-performance catamaran rose up on hydrofoils and the rout was on.
The Kiwis were so dominant that they had finished and were doing a fly-by of America’s Cup Park on Piers 27-29 when the Italians were still approaching the sixth of seven marks.
The winning margin was 5 minutes, 23 seconds, but Luna Rossa was ruled as not having finished. Boats must finish within five minutes of the winner. That’s because there will be two races a day during the Louis Vuitton Cup finals for challengers and the America’s Cup match, and officials want to keep the program running on schedule.
It was the first time in four races that two wing-sailed AC72 catamarans were on the course at the same time.
Italy boycotted Sunday’s opening race while awaiting an international jury’s decision in a rules spat. Team New Zealand sailed around alone to collect a point.
The Kiwis did the same thing Tuesday, and the Italians on Thursday, when their scheduled opponent was Artemis Racing. Swedish-based Artemis Racing has yet to launch its second boat following the capsize of its first boat on May 9 that killed British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson.
Saturday’s race was the opener of the second of five round-robins in the Louis Vuitton Cup. Team New Zealand leads the Italians 3-1.
Artemis hopes to begin sea trials of its second boat within the week.
Team New Zealand has shown remarkable speed, not to mention savvy by Barker.
The veteran Cup skipper slowed his catamaran during the pre-start maneuvers and got into a controlling position against Luna Rossa. The Italians tried to duck behind the Kiwis but couldn’t, leaving them trapped to windward. The boats were still a few hundred yards from the starting line when the gun sounded but Barker and the Kiwis were in great shape.
Italy also was hit with a penalty for sailing into the course boundary, forcing it to slow down and fall farther behind.
The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup will face defending champion Oracle Team USA in the 34th America’s Cup starting Sept. 7.
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