Emirates Team New Zealand is two races from winning the America’s Cup after splitting a pair of heats with defending champion Oracle Team USA on San Francisco Bay.
Sailing in about 18 knots (20.7 mph, 33.3 kph) of wind, New Zealand won a tight second race, emerging from the first leg with a slight lead and ending the second up 11 seconds. After four lead changes, the U.S. pushed ahead by 1 second on the next leg, before New Zealand edged out downwind, crossing the finish line with a 16-second advantage.
Dean Barker, the New Zealand skipper, told reporters that it had been important for New Zealand to bounce back after losing the first of a pair of very close races.
“If you didn’t enjoy today’s racing out there you probably should watch another sport,” he said.
The U.S. needs eight more wins to retain the 162-year-old trophy because of a two-race penalty for rules violations during preliminary competition. New Zealand, which has won seven races, can take the Cup with two. The next two races are scheduled for Sept. 17.
Oracle’s win in the day’s first race was the second in a row for the U.S. team backed by Ellison, chief executive of Redwood City, California-based Oracle Corp. and the world’s eighth-richest man with a net worth of about $40.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index. Oracle won yesterday’s sole race after New Zealand nearly flipped during a tack, one hull of the 72-foot catamaran rising high in the air.
“You could almost see your house from up there, back in New Zealand,” said Glenn Ashby, wing trimmer for the Kiwis. “The boat handling aspect of these boats is so critical, as we saw again today. That’s one of the exciting parts of sailing such a technologically advanced boat.”
In today’s first heat, Oracle controlled the start, leading off the line and rounding the first mark about four seconds ahead before finishing with a 47-second victory.
The U.S. team might have pulled out a third straight victory, but slowed to pass behind New Zealand on the downwind leg of the second race to avoid a rules violation. Oracle Tactician Ben Ainslie said it was a necessary move and the team’s best chance at retaking the lead.
“It was pretty close on that final run into the finish,” said Ainslie. “It’s really hard to judge that right when you’re going along at 40 knots. We didn’t do too bad a job there, but it wasn’t enough to get back into it.”