Oracle Team USA extended the America’s Cup sailing competition into at least today by defeating Emirates Team New Zealand by 31 seconds on San Francisco Bay to stave off elimination.
The victory yesterday leaves the defending champions, backed by Oracle Corp. (ORCL) Chief Executive Larry Ellison, behind 8-2 and needing to win seven more races to take the 162-year-old regatta. The Kiwis need just one. Two more races are scheduled today.
Oracle helmsman Jimmy Spithill said his team’s designers and engineers have erased a speed advantage New Zealand enjoyed at the beginning of the regatta and the crew believes it could come back.
“Yes, we can win seven more races,” Spithill told reporters. “We’re in quite a different situation now where we’re clearly confident in our boat and we believe we can do it and we’ve almost got nothing to lose.”
Oracle outmaneuvered New Zealand on the starting line yesterday, led at the first turn and extended that advantage to 11 seconds by the end of the second leg.
Headed back upwind toward the Golden Gate Bridge, Oracle repeatedly forced the Kiwis in directions that caused disadvantages with the wind and current, extending the lead as the two 72-foot (22-meter) catamarans headed back toward the finish line.
Spithill said the victory was the result of a good start and mistake-free sailing by tacticians Ben Ainslie and Tom Slingsby.
“We were able to get a nice jump off the line and from there Benny and Tom sailed a very nice race,” Spithill said. “If you get behind in a race, it’s very difficult to find a passing lane unless someone makes a mistake and between Benny and Tom, they didn’t allow any passing lanes.”
Dean Barker, New Zealand’s skipper, said his team wasn’t taking its seven-race edge for granted.
“We don’t believe this is over until we win one more race,” he said. “It’s a battle. You have to fight incredibly hard for every point. There are no gimmes out here.”
The day’s second race was postponed when winds topped a 20 knot (23 mile per hour, 37 kilometer per hour) safety limit. It was the second consecutive day that had a race postponement.
Spithill said New Zealand rebuffed Oracle’s proposal to increase the wind limit for the regatta. Barker said his team was opposed to changing the rule mid-series.
In advance of today’s heats, Spithill said Oracle would continue to work on improving the boat while the crew stayed focused on winning one race at a time.
“The thing that gives us confidence is we’ve all faced big comebacks before and been able to pull them off,” he said. “But I think the thing that really has given the team a lot of energy and momentum lately is the boat. From where we started this regatta to where we are now, you can clearly see all the guys on board the boat believe they’ve got the tool now that can get it done.”
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