By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand breezed into the finish line twice on Wednesday in the America’s Cup challenger series, giving the heavily favored Kiwis a 4-1 lead over Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge.
The races were the first of the series on San Francisco Bay in which both high-tech 72-foot (22-meter) catamarans finished without one suffering a disabling mechanical breakdown. But Italy trailed New Zealand by two minutes 18 seconds in the first race and one minute 28 seconds in the second, so far behind that neither looked like much of a contest.
The competition for the Louis Vuitton Cup was so uneventful a commentator asked New Zealand skipper Dean Barker if he saw his crew’s first race of under 26 minutes as perfect.
“I thought the guys did a really, really nice job all the way around,” Barker responded. “We know we’re going to have to keep doing it and keep improving to stay in the competition.”
They also must keep their high-speed yachts in shape. Mechanical breakdowns - highlighted with the appearance of glue guns and hacksaws at the starting line - have plagued the series, amplifying concerns about the fragility of the double-hulled boats being used in this year’s version of the quest for the world’s oldest sporting trophy.
Last week, in three consecutive races one of the competitors was forced to stop, handing a victory to the team that managed to cross the finish line.
The first team to win seven races in the Louis Vuitton Cup final will sail against defending America’s Cup champion Oracle Team USA next month.