SoftBank Team Japan had a taste of victory in front of their hometown crowd today during the first day of racing at Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Fukuoka.
Despite disappointing results in races one and three that have the team seated low in the current event standings, a commanding win during race one delivered to the expectations of thousands of fans lining the beach.
Bowman Kazuhiko Sofuku, an America’s Cup hero in Japan, said he smiled as he heard the roar of the crowds from onboard the boat.
“It’s a really great feeling racing in front of all the people here”, said Sofuku. “After our win in race two I could hear all the Japanese fans cheering for us on the beach and it was really special for me. I was a bit emotional.”
Along with fans ashore, there was a very special celebrity in attendance cheering on SoftBank Team Japan.
Masayoshi Son, CEO and founder of SoftBank, appeared on stage with the team prior to racing to lend his support to the first Japanese America’s Cup team in 15 years.
“Mr. Son was on the water and very happy”, said Sofuku. “It was fantastic having him here.”
“We’ve been asking him every World Series to come watch the race so we’re so happy he’s here. It was a great opportunity to show him what the team is about.”
The racing on Hakata Bay was close-fought and intense all day as wind speeds between 6 to 12 knots filled in on the course.
Starting the day, race one saw the team in third place at the first mark in a strong position for the downwind run.
However, light conditions on the left side of the course saw the team slip to 5th on the first run and despite a nail biting final mark rounding with Oracle Team USA, the team was not able to climb any higher.
However, race two saw the Japanese team shine.
A beautifully timed start after dipping behind a battle between Oracle Team USA and Land Rover BAR saw the team in first place at mark one. From there they never looked back.
Leading the fleet as it collapsed together at the bottom mark – only separated by 23 seconds from first to last – SoftBank Team Japan climbed out and extended their lead leg by leg. At the final mark rounding they were 23 seconds ahead second place Oracle Team USA going on to cross the finish line and claim the win.
The crowd roared to life seeing the hometown favorites notch their first victory.
All was going well then in the final race of the day as the team was in a strong position in second place through the first three legs. However, a jammer failure in the code zero halyard slowed their speed dramatically as they limped to a 6th place finish.
“We’ll focus on our performance one race at a time”, said Sofuku. “Today was really positive even though the results didn’t show it. We felt like we sailed well and are looking forward to tomorrow.”
It’s still all to play for in Fukuoka. With “Super Sunday” looming less than 24 hours away, the team has every chance to climb the standings tomorrow capitalizing on the support of the crowd and their upward momentum in the past three event standings.
Racing begins at 1300 hrs JST on Hakata Bay in Fukuoka tomorrow with the live stream broadcast on SportsNavi Live followed by a delayed broadcast at 1715 hrs on TV Tokyo.
- Land Rover BAR – 27 pts.
- Oracle Team USA – 26 pts.
- Emirates Team New Zealand – 23 pts.
- Artemis Racing – 21 pts.
- SoftBank Team Japan – 21 pts.
- Groupama Team France – 17 pts.