The first real race of the America's Cup challenger series was a runaway for Emirates Team New Zealand even before they hit the starting line on San Francisco Bay. Kiwi skipper Dean Barker trapped Italy's Luna Rossa during the pre-start manoeuvres 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 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.
"It's different, isn't it, to actually have two boats together," Barker said. "It's nice to have the Luna Rossa guys out there. It can only make you better."
It was the first time in four races that two wing-sailed AC72 catamarans were on the course at the same time.
Italy boycotted last Sunday's opening race while awaiting an international jury's decision in a rules spat. Team New Zealand sailed alone to collect a point.
The Kiwis did the same thing on Tuesday, and the Italians on Thursday, when their scheduled opponents were Artemis Racing. Swedish-based Artemis Racing have yet to launch their second boat following the capsize of their first on May 9 that killed British sailor Andrew "Bart" Simpson.
The latest race was the opener of the second of five round-robins in the Louis Vuitton Cup. Team New Zealand lead the Italians 3-1. Artemis hope to begin sea trials of their second boat within the week.
Team New Zealand's winning margin was five minutes and 23 seconds, but Luna Rossa were officially tagged with a "did not finish". Boats must finish within five minutes of the winners or be ruled a DNF. 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 the programme to run on schedule.
"We probably ended up almost where we thought we'd be, probably a little bit worse off," Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper said. "We had a couple of issues around the course. We're reasonably content."
Draper said a problem with the rake system on the reaching leg to the finish meant the boat couldn't foil, which contributed to Luna Rossa finishing more than five minutes after the Kiwis.
"It was a pretty major issue," he said. "It's my fault. We made a change to the system yesterday. We should know by now. We've been at this sport long enough that you shouldn't change things the day before a huge race. But we haven't got much time and we've got to keep pushing and got to keep trying stuff all the time."
Team New Zealand have shown remarkable speed, not to mention savvy by Barker. The veteran Cup skipper slowed his catamaran during the pre-start manoeuvres and got into a controlling position to trap Luna Rossa to windward. Luna Rossa were also hit with a penalty for sailing into the course boundary, forcing them to slow down and fall farther behind.
The winners of the Louis Vuitton Cup will face defending champions Oracle Team USA on September 7.