The smouldering rivalry between possibly the best sailing crew in the world, Emirates Team New Zealand, and the men who would topple them, Britain's Team Origin, finally ignited in Marseille on the second day of the Audi MedCup regatta.
Both had taken a hard look at themselves overnight after ETNZ , the reigning champions, had gone into the clubhouse lying ninth after the first three races, and Origin skipper Ben Ainslie was beating himself up for carding a fourth and two sevenths.
When the Rade du Sud at last decided to lay on a decent racing breeze, Origin opened its account with a third, one ahead of the Kiwis, and then went on to shoulder aside – so did Jochen Schuemann in All4One before the finish – Dean Barker's silver fern-emblazoned crew to win the second race.
The five-regatta series for 52-footers attracts the highest class of competitor. Even the likes of Terry Hutchinson (Quantum), Paul Cayard (Artemis), and Torben Grael (Luna Rossa), know that any errors can be painfully expensive.
Schuemann has the same Olympic haul as Ainslie, three golds and a silver, and is making great strides with his French/German challenge. But Ainslie, who once acted as tune-up helmsman and trial horse for Barker, senses a long-term battle for supremacy with Barker. Both will also meet as challengers for the America's Cup.
The day's work put Origin into third overall behind Hutchinson and the Argentinian yacht Matador, where Simon Fry trims the sails. Schuemann is fourth, the Spanish yacht Bribon, with Ian Walker as tactician, fifth the Russians, with Polish skipper Karol Jablonski, sixth, and New Zealanders up two places to seventh.
Listen: Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie outlines triple target to Stuart Alexander:
Friday's coastal race looks secure, but worsening weather threatens racing on Saturday and, especially, Sunday.
The fall-out from America's Cup in Valencia earlier this year as the potential challenger group waits to hear the format and timetable for the next event, which is increasingly looking likely to be pushed back to 2014. No attempt to damp down such fears has been made either by the new holder, the San Francisco-based BMW Oracle team, not its chosen Challenger of Record, Mascalzone Latino, whose backing club is in Rome.
The previous holder, Ernesto Bertarelli, still has his Alinghi sailing team but has expressed no public interest in trying to win back the 159-year old trophy and two key members have left. His ceo and design co-ordinator Grant Simmer is the newly-appointed ceo of Britain's Team Origin and the man who was at the heart of both the thinking and sailing for him, Murray Jones, has rejoined his old skipper Russell Coutts.
Jones is on of the 'tight five' which left Team New Zealand to help the Swiss take the Cup away from Auckland in 2003. They had previously, as Team Magic, dominated the world match race tour.
Coutts, now Sir Russell, fell out with Bertarelli and was sidelined for the 2007 defence in Valencia before being snapped up by Oracle boss Larry Ellison. His courage in plumping for a massive wing sail to power the Oracle trimaran to victory over the Alinhgi catamaran brought sweet revenge.
The other four, Brad Butterworth, Simon Daubney, Warwick Fleury and Dean Phipps, continued to sail for Bertarelli, though Daubney, one of the world's top sail trimmers, was banned from the sport for two years after traces of cocaine were found in his blood. He said a drink had been spiked.
It is not known whether Daubney has been approached to rejoin the fold and Fleury, currently sailing with Team Origin in the Audi MedCup, says he is considering his options. Nearly all of the Alinghi team, both sailors and office support, have had their contracts terminated.
Ainslie said: "Things went so much better today. Importantly, we were able to get off the start line quicker and then the guys did a great job, sailing the boat smoothly round the track."Reuse content