With Ainslie aboard, Oracle loses twice to Kiwis
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Even with the most successful sailor in Olympic history on board, defending America’s Cup champion Oracle Team USA simply can’t catch Emirates Team New Zealand.
The plucky Kiwis beat Oracle Team USA twice more on Thursday, moving closer to taking the America’s Cup Down Under for the second time in 18 years.
Team New Zealand turned a close Race 6 into a 47-second victory. They then put a whitewashing on Larry Ellison’s syndicate in the seventh race, leading the whole way for a victory of 66 seconds.
Team New Zealand leads 6 to minus-1 and needs three more victories to reclaim the trophy for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
The way the Kiwis are sailing, the clincher could come on Sunday on San Francisco Bay. Friday is a lay day, with Races 8 and 9 on Saturday. Two more races are scheduled for Sunday.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Ellison of Oracle Corp., was docked two points in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup. It still needs to win 10 races to keep the Auld Mug at the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
The American syndicate — which has only one American on its 11-man crew — couldn’t catch New Zealand skipper Dean Barker even after replacing tactician John Kostecki with British star Ben Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history.
“We cannot give up and I can guarantee we won’t do that,” Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said. “We’ll keep fighting the whole way till the end. There’s still a lot of racing; I’m still convinced we can win races. Sure we made a change in the back of boat. Both John and Ben are fantastic sailors, two of the best sailors in the world, so we’re very fortunate we can rotate guys like that. But we have to study the data and really see what we can do to change up the boat.”
Even though the five-leg course has just one upwind leg, the Kiwis are simply too good and too quick when the 72-foot (22-meter) catamarans are zigzagging toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
After a fierce tacking duel in Race 6 that left the grinders gasping for air, the seventh race turned into a laugher.
“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t driven,” Barker said. “Team New Zealand exists to win the America’s Cup. It’s why we’re here. We’ve got an opportunity, but we’ve still got to go out and perform well on the water.”
Barker sped across the starting line ahead of rival Jimmy Spithill and kept his catamaran ahead the whole way. The Kiwis led by 7 seconds at the second gate after the downwind second leg and then raced away sailing past Alcatraz Island toward the Golden Gate Bridge. At the third gate, the Kiwi lead was 56 seconds.
In Race 6, Spithill led by 12 seconds at the downwind second gate before the Kiwis reeled in the American syndicate during a fierce tacking duel past Alcatraz Island that left the grinders struggling. Among the men who turn the winches that power the hydraulic system on the catamarans are Rob Waddell, an Olympic rowing gold medalist and former two-time world champion, and Grant Dalton, the 56-year-old syndicate head.
Kiwi tactician Ray Davies called for an extra gybe sailing the downwind second leg, which allowed Team New Zealand to split from Oracle on the upwind third leg and gain starboard tack advantage.
After two lead changes, the boats crossed for a third time. Barker pulled an aggressive move and pointed his cat at Oracle, forcing it to do a deeper turn. The Kiwis began pulling away sailing in light wind and led by 44 seconds at gate three.
“We’re stoked with the way today went,” said Glenn Ashby, an Australian who expertly trims the wing sail on the New Zealand cat. “This was a bit of a pivotal day for us in the campaign. I think the boys certainly sailed a fantastic first race and second race, but particularly in the first race where we were sort of back to the wall. A third of the way through the race the guys dug really deep and I’ve never seen some of the performance out of the handles that those guys were wanting today.”
On Thursday morning, Spithill replaced Kostecki with Ainslie, who won four straight Olympic gold medals as well as a silver for Britain. The 36-year-old Ainslie was knighted in March.
Until Thursday, Ainslie had served as helmsman of the backup boat, helping to prepare Spithill for the regatta. The move had been expected since Kostecki called for a foiling tack that the American syndicate failed to execute in a punishing loss in Race 5 on Tuesday.
Oracle played its one postponement card of the regatta and delayed Race 6 until Thursday.
With Kostecki off the boat, Rome Kirby is the only American on the 11-man crew.
Team New Zealand beat Dennis Conner 5-0 off San Diego in 1995. The Kiwi skipper then, Russell Coutts, is now CEO of Oracle Team USA.