SAN DIEGO -- Whatever else was learned yesterday on Race Day 1 for the eight foreign challengers to the America's Cup, the pre-race fears that the new class of boat would be uncompetitive now seem unfounded.
As four races began in light to moderate northerlies shortly after noon, each became a tightly knotted match until, after around 10 miles or so of racing, the leaders began to take control.
Both heavy pre-regatta favorites, Italy and New Zealand, began by trailing their competitors -- Spirit of Australia and France, respectively. They trailed for three legs until both took advantage of a shifting wind and claimed the lead.
The other pairs, Japan vs. Challenge of Australia and Sweden vs. Spain, also sailed close matches, as the breeze increased to about 12 knots later in the afternoon.
The big early surprise was the advantage that Spirit of Australia, with aggressive skipper Peter Gilmour, was able to take over Paul Cayard in Il Moro from Italy. The Australians forced Italy off the favorite side of the course, then stretched their early advantage out for three legs, leading by more than a minute, before losing that lead when the wind shifted to the west. Il Moro won that match by 2:23.
A similar story developed between France and New Zealand. French skipper Marc Pajot held off Rod Davis and the faster New Zealand boat for three legs before allowing a breakthrough. New Zealand won by 56 seconds after 20 miles of racing.
Spain's Pedro Campos took an early lead over Challenge of Australia and won in 2:15. Similarly, the Japanese defeated Challenge of Australia in 3:30.