US beats Kiwis on opening day of America's Cup qualifiers

US beats Kiwis on opening day of America's Cup qualifiers

US beats Kiwis on opening day of America's Cup qualifiers

The Oracle Racing AC45 catamaran skipped by James Spithill competes in the America's Cup World Series in Cascais, Portugal in August 2011.

Groupama Team France provided a massive surprise in the opening race of the day by leading one of the series favourites, Artemis Racing at the first mark and led the Swedes around the course by a narrow margin in the 10-11kt breeze.

An error on the third gate from Ainslie's Land Rover BAR boat allowed Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas, to steal back into a lead which they never relinquished down the stretch in ideal racing conditions in Bermuda's Great Sound.

However, the tides turned on the fifth leg, as Emirates Team New Zealand demonstrated the full speed of their pedal-powered grinding systems.

The British team won their opening race against Sweden's Artemis Racing on Saturday but their momentum in Bermuda has faltered following four straight losses.

It is hard to believe that even someone of Ben Ainslie's abilities could not have been slightly affected by the incident, and that appeared to be the case, as the British initially led both their races, only to drop the ball and allow Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand to stage come from behind wins, in Races 8 and 11.

Artemis was founded in 2006 by Swedish oil trading magnate and sailor Torbjorn Tornqvist and is well prepared after launching its America's Cup challenge in 2010. However, despite the lapse in concentration and having to start two boat lengths behind the British team, the incident didn't prove disastrous as they bounced back spectacularly. We came out today when it counts and beat a really, really good team.

The British entry team Land Rover BAR was conceived by four times Olympic gold medallist and 34th America's Cup victor, Sir Ben Ainslie, with the aim of challenging for Britain and bringing the prestigious America's Cup trophy back home to where it all began in 1851.

Oracle pulled into a 3-3 tie atop the standings with Land Rover BAR, which opened with two bonus points based on preliminary regattas. This was a race for helmsmen with nerves of steel, both teams executing multiple high speed crosses, the boats at times within just metres of each other at closing speeds of over 40 knots.

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The victor will then face Oracle, who are racing in the preliminaries, but whose place in the final, due to start around the middle of June, is assured as the defending champions.

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The British looked strong in beating Artemis Racing by 11 seconds.

The highlight of the day came in Race 5 in the highly anticipated battle between ORACLE TEAM USA and Emirates Team New Zealand.

It swapped out two of the workhorse grinders per race and Australian surf life saving legend Ky Hurst sailed the last two races.

"The America's Cup is clearly an obsession for me", Spithill said. "The guys are in great shape, so it's not really an issue in terms of the physical side for the guys".

There is a saying in Bermuda that everyone has a boat but the only eyes will be on BAR, Team Oracle USA and the rest of the America's Cup fleet. There were 30 degree wind shifts on the course and Artemis played them well.

Race two proved an enthralling encounter as Artemis Racing came from behind to complete a spectacular turnaround to beat SoftBank Team Japan. The two syndicates shared a design package, but SoftBank Team Japan, a startup syndicate, is clearly behind on the sailing front.

"When you look at the conditions, it's no surprise at all that either team could have been a long way ahead", he said.

All six boats will race against each other twice, in newly designed boats, and the top four will progress into the challenger round. "It clearly shows that today was about sailing well and trying to avoid some of the tough spots out there".

Ainslie was held responsible by race umpires for causing the collision, incurring a penalty, which meant the team had no recourse to redress.

"It is just a shame we couldn't repay them in the races today".

Barker said his boat still needs some work after Saturday's crash.

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