Four of the six America’s Cup teams were back in practice race action on 15th May on the first day of the final week of practice racing before the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda starts on 26th May, and the results proved promising for ORACLE TEAM USA.
In near perfect conditions on Bermuda’s Great Sound, Jimmy Spithill and ORACLE TEAM USA showed their intentions early on with a dominant performance against Sir Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR in race one.
Despite the British boat making a better start, ORACLE TEAM USA quickly found their rhythm and were clearly ahead by the second windward mark, before widening their advantage to cross the finish line over a minute ahead of the British team.
Tom Slingsby, ORACLE TEAM USA tactician and sailing team manager, commented after an 8 hour day on the water:
"It was a long day out there for us, but we wanted to make the most of it.
"We did a couple of races, got a couple of wins and then we did some tuning and tried some different tests. We got a lot of answers we needed.
"We know how much we've stepped up our game from the last race period and we see that everyone else has made a similar step. The rate of improvement is skyrocketing in this last month. Everyone is putting on all their race kit, the maneuvers are getting better and so the differences between the teams are getting smaller."
Land Rover BAR returned to the water immediately for race two but their fortunes did not improve and they suffered a second successive defeat, this time at the hands of SoftBank Team Japan.
Again, the British boat made a strong start but their lack of straight-line speed proved their downfall as Softbank Team Japan, skippered by Dean Barker, gained a clear lead that they did not relinquish, finishing with a convincing victory.
The two victors of races one and two then faced off in race three in what would prove to be the closest contest of the afternoon.
ORACLE TEAM USA and SoftBank Team Japan made even starts before the American sailed clear ahead after the windward mark.
It was a lead they did not give up, pressing home their advantage in the closing stages to finish clear of their Japanese rivals and remaining unbeaten for the day with back-to-back victories.
However, fresh from that defeat, SoftBank Team Japan returned to the race course to seal a somewhat routine second victory against a struggling Groupama Team France, who had been out for the entire afternoon but joined the racing action late on in the day.
SoftBank Team Japan Tactician and Sailing Team Director, Chris Draper:
"Everything's going really well. Like Iain Percy from Artemis Racing said the other day, I don't think the race scoring to date has flattered our performances, counting races we've missed, etc.
"We're really pleased with how it went today. We've not had a huge amount of days in the past 7-8 days and there's been some massive modifications to the boat. Big credit to our shore team that we went as well on the water as we did today. We only had 20 minutes of warm-up before the first race and it went well."
However, it proved a difficult run for the French team, skippered by Franck Cammas.
Having got out of the starting box behind SoftBank Team Japan, Groupama Team Frances’s chances of winning were dealt a major blow as they suffered a big nose-dive in the run up to the first mark.
They did, however, manage to restart in their pursuit of SoftBank Team Japan, but the damage to their chances of victory had already been done with the incident all but ending any chance of a competitive contest between the two teams.
As the French team continued to struggle, SoftBank Team Japan eased over the finish line to take a second win from three races.
Meanwhile, Emirates Team New Zealand’s preparations got off to the worst possible start as they suffered a broken rudder before racing began.
The team confirmed, via their Twitter page, that they successfully replaced the broken rudder an they made it back out onto the Great Sound to continue their own practice program late on in the afternoon.
Artemis Racing did not participate in the practice races whilst a number of upgrades are completed, but were out on the water on board Magic Blue, meaning all six teams were sailing, if not competing, on day one of the final week of practice racing.