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By Ian Ransom
(Reuters) – Team New Zealand rallied superbly to level the America’s Cup match at 2-2 on Friday after challenger Luna Rossa took the honours in the early race in light winds off the coast of Auckland.
Fast starts again proved decisive on Friday, with Luna Rossa winning the opener by 37 seconds before defender TNZ hit back with a 63-second victory, the most dominant margin of the best-of-13 series so far.
All four races have now produced wins by the yacht starting from the port side, with three of them blowout victories, but both teams were adamant the pattern could be broken if more variable winds blow over the weekend.
“Personally I feel like it’s a bit more of coincidence than an extra strength,” TNZ skipper Peter Burling told reporters.
“Obviously your life is a little bit easier if you’re the port boat … You still have to choose a good time and make life hard for the other team.
“A lot of the starts could have been anyone’s start coming into the final 30 seconds.”
The series is set up nicely for a big weekend, with crowds able to pack the foreshore in the centre of Auckland following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
Luna Rossa were seen as the faster boat in lighter winds in the leadup to the event, and it looked that way as they dominated the upwind legs to claim the first race in 27 minutes and 18 seconds.
But TNZ dented that perception with a sparkling comeback in the second race, though they were helped by a poor Luna Rossa jibe that allowed the New Zealanders to coast to victory in 29: 53.
“Quite a few little things didn’t go our way but then to bounce back in the second one and get a nice, good start and be strong throughout was really pleasing for us as a group,” said Burling.
A flotilla of spectator boats bobbed by Course E in the Hauraki Gulf and one breached the boundary moments before the start of the first race, forcing an eight-minute delay.
After resetting, Luna Rossa edged the start in 9-knot winds and quickly blew out the lead on the way to a comfortable win.
Shaded at the start of race two, the Italians were in the hunt for most of the first two legs before it all went awry on a jibe bearing down on the second gate.
The hull dipped into the water as their foils dragged, allowing TNZ to roar ahead and shift the pressure back onto the Italians ahead of day three on Saturday.
Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni admitted he had “missed the button” in lowering a board on the AC75 yacht.
“It was just a very bad manoeuvre,” he said.
“Lucky we were behind at that moment … It’s not going to happen again.”
The Italians were swept 5-0 the last time they took on the New Zealanders for the America’s Cup in Auckland 21 years ago, so they should be well pleased with their position ahead of day three.
“I truly believe we’re the underdogs but as we’ve shown we can win races,” said Australian co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill.
“Looking at the scoreline it’s great news for the event, for fans of both teams. But you’re taking on Team New Zealand at home and they’re the favourites.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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