DUBAI // Emirates Team New Zealand (NZ) exposed the first cracks in the armour of the dominant BMW Oracle Racing team at the Louis Vuitton Trophy yesterday.
The New Zealanders split race victories with the regatta leader, winning their second match by a mere one-second margin over the fast-finishing Americans.
James Spithill, the Oracle skipper, had won the pair's first match, preserving his team's no-loss record after four days of racing off the host Dubai International Marine Club and putting New Zealand at a disadvantage.
In an about-face, New Zealand's helmsman Dean Barker grabbed control at the start of the second race and led the Americans around the course.
It was a critical victory for the New Zealand team, which flies the UAE flag. Down two races before yesterday, and docked half a point for a collision on the opening day, they ideally needed two victories to put a dent in the winning performance of the Oracle team that holds the America's Cup.
The scoreboard now has BMW Oracle Racing on seven points and Emirates Team New Zealand second with 3.5 points.
Sweden's Artemis Racing, Synergy Russian Sailing Team and the French/German team All4One are third on three points. Italy's Mascalzone Latino Audi team is sixth with two points.
Expectations were heightened at the end of the day when the Americans and New Zealanders, old Louis Vuitton Cup rivals, lined up for their first race. Oracle's Spithill won the start and claimed the favoured right-hand side of the course. The New Zealand boat led early but better conditions on the right favoured the Americans.
Two confrontations marked the first leg and the two boats narrowly avoided collisions. Both boats flew protest flags; none of the complaints were validated by the on-water umpires.
In the second race, Barker was pinned by his rival in the pre-start manoeuvring but escaped a minute before the start gun. The right was favoured and the New Zealand skipper grabbed it. Barker exploited his edge all around the course, remaining at least a boat length clear of the attacking Americans. However, the Oracle team's favourable gybe on the last leg almost robbed New Zealand of their point.
"It was another good, close race," Ray Davies, the Emirates tactician, said. "Obviously, we're going to see a few more races like this so better get used to it.
"In the last race there was some favourable line bias and pretty much the reversal of what we saw in our first race. It was a bit tricky on that run to the finish, but very happy with the final result."
At least a day's racing remains in the first round-robin. Emirates Team New Zealand and Artemis have three races left; the rest of the fleet two each.
AT A GLANCE
Synergy Russian Sailing defeat All4One, 8secs
Synergy Russian Sailing earned a come-from-behind win with a pass on the first run. But they were given a scare on the short downwind sprint to the finish on the second lap of the course as All4One made a gain with a smoother rounding at the top mark and some good crew work on their downwind gybes.
Artemis defeat Mascalzone Latino Audi, 39secs
This match was all but over before it began as Gavin Brady, at the helm of the Italian boat, picked up a penalty one minute before the start.
All4One defeat Synergy Russia Sailing, 11secs
A good start by Seb Col on All4One saw him win the right-hand side of the course with his nose forward of Synergy. Francesco Bruni, at the helm of the Russian boat, was forced to luff hard to clear the pin end of the starting line, handing the early lead to Col.
Mascalzone Latino Audi defeat Artemis, 38secs
A nicely timed start by Mascalzone Latino saw them tight to leeward of Artemis and hitting the line with speed en route to an easy victory.
BMW Oracle Racing defeat Emirates Team New Zealand, 19secs
James Spithill and Oracle won the start, and the right side of the course. Dean Barker and the Kiwis split away to the left for an early advantage but more pressure on the right drove the American boat ahead.
Emirates Team New Zealand defeat BMW Oracle Racing, 1sec
Spithill controlled the start until the last minute when Barker got under his guard and pushed Oracle away from the right side. The New Zealand boat controlled until the final leg, when a crucial gybe saw the Americans close to within five metres at the finish.