America’s Cup 2021: Not just the fastest boat – The other reason why Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup

In 2021, it wasn’t just a case of the fastest boat wins the America’s Cup.

That famous adage was again proved true – as Te Rehutai was definitely a click quicker in most conditions than Luna Rossa – but there was something more.

The fastest improvers were also rewarded with the silverware, as Team New Zealand constantly enhanced their performance, day after day.

From some uncertain moments on the first day last Wednesday, they were smooth as silk this week, almost flawless as they won the last five races on the bounce.

The boat’s performance seemed to get incrementally better each day, as did the crew work, which went from smooth to slick to superior.

That enabled their miraculous comeback on Monday, after being buried off their foils, and their last-gasp victory on Tuesday, which set up match point.

Their progress was epitomised in the performance of Peter Burling, who came to the fore in the second half of the series.

Burling has long been the master of the big occasion – and he proved it once again on Wednesday.

With the America’s Cup up for grabs, the Team New Zealand helmsmen managed probably his best pre-start of the series, shutting the door on Luna Rossa brilliantly, and making it almost impossible from there.

His ability in the pre-starts was seen as an Achilles heel coming into this series, after Burling had struggled at times last December.

But he proved a quick learner and that showed on Wednesday, with a brilliant manoeuvre to get the favoured position off the start line.

“We have been learning all week and a lot of very even starts,” said Burling. “We definitely wanted the right [side] and we were willing to give up that first tack to get there. We just wanted to [have] good boat speed on the hip and being able to fold and lead out from there. [Then] we really showed what this boat can do.”

From there Te Rehutai was impossible to catch, banking a 46-second win to confirm their place in history.

“It’s unreal,” said Burling. “We’ve had messages [of support] from everyone, from the Prime Minister to high school kids to just about anyone you could think of and it means the world to us as a team.

“We are obviously blown away by being able to achieve what we have as a group and win another America’s Cup, but it’s just been the most amazing experience along the way.”

It’s also a special mark for Burling. He becomes just the third helmsman in the modern era to manage successive Cup triumphs, after Russell Coutts (1995, 2000, 2003) and Spithill (2010, 2013) and suggested that this defence was even more special that the 2017 win in Bermuda.

“Definitely winning it has all the emotion of that and [it was] just an incredible time in Bermuda, but a lot smaller group,” said Burling. “[But] I don’t think you can think of a much more special environment than this.

“Over a couple of thousands boats out every day it seemed, the village absolutely packed, people everywhere – to do something like this on home waters is something our whole team is incredibly proud of.”

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