Team NZ advances to America's Cup match vs Oracle
Team NZ advances to America's Cup match vs Oracle
Aug. 26, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Team New Zealand finished off the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series with an emphatic 7-1 margin, setting up the ultimate America's Cup grudge match between two teams that have spent the summer trading verbal jabs.
Emirates Team New Zealand zipped through a thick fog and past Italy's Luna Rossa again Sunday to finish off the challenger series and advance to the premier event against defending champion and bitter rival Oracle Team USA. The best-of-17 America's Cup starts Sept 7.
This is the fifth time since 1995 Team New Zealand has reached the America's Cup match. The only time it didn't make in that stretch was in 2010, which was a one-off between Oracle and Switzerland's Alinghi following a bitter court fight.
The New Zealand team turned this challenger series into a no-contest.
The closest margin was 1 minute, 28 seconds, and Luna Rossa's lone win came when Team New Zealand dropped out because the electronics system that controls the hydraulics of its catamaran failed.
After winning the final race— in the lightest wind of the series due to a fog that blanketed San Francisco Bay — by 3:20, the Kiwis sounded their horn as they crossed the line and toasted sparkling wine on the boat while taking a victory lap near thousands who crowded the corner piers. The crew shared hugs and high-fives, and while they'll have a few days off to celebrate before practicing again, they know there's still more to accomplish.
"The only reason we're in San Francisco is to take the Cup away," said Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton, who also serves as a grinder.
Skipper Dean Barker believes the challenger series helped his team learn the course and polish its performances, foiling faster — and even upwind — and pulling off more foiling gybes under all kinds of conditions. Oracle tactician Darren Bundock brushed that off, saying his team is better prepared because it has had closer competitions in two-boat practice races — something no other team can do — than anything the Kiwis faced in the challengers.
In a race for the oldest active trophy in international sports, the bitterness between both offers one of the more scintillating subplots in recent America's Cup matches.
Dalton and Barker both accused Oracle Team USA of cheating after it was revealed the U.S. syndicate illegally modified its boats in the America's Cup World Series, a warmup to this summer's racing.
Russell Coutts, a New Zealander who is CEO of Oracle Team USA, recently told The Associated Press that his syndicate is incredibly motivated because of Dalton's barbs.
"I don't have to give a motivational speech. This team is incredibly motivated to win. This has picked it up 10, 20, 30 notches. They can thank Grant Dalton," Coutts said.
An international jury is expected to rule on the matter as soon as this week. Sanctions against Oracle could include a fine, forfeiture of races in the America's Cup or disqualification from the regatta.
Oracle even filed a protest alleging that members of Team New Zealand had trespassed to gather information in the case. Team New Zealand responded that the allegation was "laughable." Oracle withdrew its protest.
Additionally, Dalton and Coutts traded insults at a gala dinner in Auckland earlier this year. Dalton criticized Oracle Team USA owner Larry Ellison because his vision of a grand regatta with a dozen or more challengers fell far short, as the cost of the high-performance 72-foot catamarans and the perceived peril of sailing them kept several competitors out.
Coutts responded by criticizing the 56-year-old Dalton's record and wondering why New Zealand couldn't find someone younger to sail on the boat. Coutts, 51, who won the America's Cup three times as a skipper and once as Oracle Team USA's CEO, doesn't sail on the U.S.-backed boat and didn't sail in the syndicate's two-race sweep of Alinghi of Switzerland in the 2010 America's Cup.
"They do look really good, but they've got to get through next week yet as well," Dalton said, referring to pending jury decision in another subtle swipe.
Despite the country each represents, the crews are quite contrasting.
Team New Zealand has a strong national identity, representing a small nation where people are vastly outnumbered by sheep. Because they rely on government funding, the Kiwis have said Team New Zealand will cease to exist if it doesn't win the America's Cup.
"The culture of our team is our strength," Barker said.
Oracle, by comparison, has a multinational crew, including Australian-born skipper Jimmy Spithill. Only one American, tactician John Kostecki, was on Oracle's crew when it won the America's Cup in 2010.
How fast each team is won't be clear until they hit the water.
"We're apprehensive," Dalton said. "We think they're fast, but we don't know."
AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.