SAN FRANCISCO // Emirates Team New Zealand moved to the brink of capturing the America’s Cup with an eighth race victory before the potential clinching race was postponed by high winds.
The Kiwis need to beat defending champion Oracle Team USA just once more to claim yachting’s coveted trophy, with the next two races scheduled for tonight.
New Zealand darted past Oracle to snatch a lead over the starting line in the second race before getting word from officials that the match was cancelled due to strong winds.
“It was not a certain thing that it would have turned into a win. We were happy to be in first position,” New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said, downplaying how close his team is to victory. “If we can get a win, that would be great.”
New Zealand’s victory by 15 seconds in race 11 continued the humbling of billionaire yachtsman Larry Ellison and the team he is counting on to keep possession of the Cup.
New Zealand beat the Americans across the start and established a slight lead that lasted into the pivotal upwind third leg, where the rivals engaged in an intense tacking duel during which the Kiwis managed to fend off the hosts.
Oracle split the race at the third gate and opted for the opposite side of the course, closing the gap but eventually being cut off by the Kiwis on their way to victory.
It was New Zealand’s eighth triumph in the best-of-17 series, putting them one win shy of the trophy while Oracle, penalized two points before the start for pre-regatta violations, must win eight times in a row to deny the Kiwis the Cup.
‘We’ve got one hell of a battle on our hands here, but stranger things have happened in sport,” said Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill. “It’s never over until it’s over. We won’t give up.”
He contended that no matter how the event ends for Oracle, dueling on the San Francisco Bay with first-generation AC72 catamarans has proven to be a winning formula by adding excitement to the Cup.
“It is the ultimate test; the ultimate challenge,” Spithill said. “This event is great for the competitor, great for spectators, and more importantly we have introduced it to a broader audience.”
Safety measures lowering the wind threshold in which races would be conducted were put in place for the regatta following the death of Andrew Simpson from the crew of failed challenger Artemis during a training run in May.
The AC72 catamaran of Swedish team Artemis, one of three challenger hopefuls, capsized in May and Simpson, a British double Olympic medallist, drowned after being trapped under the overturned structure.
New Zealand will go into Thursday with the lead and the momentum, with Oracle having scrambled to make changes to its boat after being repeatedly out-sailed by the Kiwis.
The adjustments payed off with ramped-up speeds but the USA has been consistently out-maneuvered on the bay.
“That is a good description; chess on rocket ships,” said Oracle strategist Ben Ainslee, a Britain who won four Olympic gold medals in sailing last year.
“You just need to keep believing. We are a strong team. We can win races.”
Oracle, penalized two points for infractions before the start of the races, is fighting for an unprecedented comeback.
The America’s Cup, first contested in 1851, has been held since 2010 by Ellison.
The technology industry titan, whose personal fortune is estimated at some $40 billion (30.6 billion euros, 26.3 billion pounds) beat the giant Swiss catamaran Alinghi 2-0 three years ago in Valencia, Spain, with a 30-metre-long (98-feet) rigid wing trimaran.
Ellison brought the regatta to San Francisco, setting the scene for high-speed AC72 catamarans to race this year.
If the Kiwis win, they will decide where the next regatta takes place and what type of boats are used.