Fri, Jun 29, 2012 - Page 19 News List

Spithill holds lead heading into ACWS final

AP, NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

In less than two years, the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) has gone from a concept to a global competition that will crown its first champion on Sunday in Newport, Rhode Island.

Oracle Racing’s Jimmy Spithill, the youngest skipper to win the America’s Cup, holds a four-point lead over Team New Zealand’s Dean Barker in the overall standings after five regattas.

Sunday’s competition will include the match racing and fleet racing finals in fast 45-foot (13.7m), wing-sailed catamarans.

Eight crews from six countries were to compete from yesterday through Sunday in Newport, which hosted racing for the America’s Cup from 1930 to 1983. Racing through Saturday can be viewed live on americascup.com.

This will be the fifth of six regattas in the opening season of the ACWS. Previous stops were in Portugal, England, San Diego, California — another former home of the America’s Cup — Venice and Naples, Italy.

Spithill thinks the ACWS — a prelude to the 34th America’s Cup next year on San Francisco Bay — has exceeded expectations. A new class of boats and a fan-friendly racing format evolved after Oracle Racing, owned by Silicon Valley maverick Larry Ellison, beat Alinghi of Switzerland in 2010 following a bitter court battle that severely damaged the image of sailing’s marquee regatta.

“I think a few of us thought we had the concept right, but it was really something that hadn’t been done, and was on paper,” Spithill said. “So, I mean, to be racing on the canals of Venice and to turn it into a TV product, which hasn’t really worked in sailing before, has far exceeded expectations. To see it come off and actually have what we call spectator sailing, where huge crowds turn up and really enjoy it, and with live TV graphics, I think that’s been a huge success.”

“I think it’s exciting that when it gets to San Francisco, it will really attract a new audience,” Spithill said. “At the end of the day it’s great for the sport because we’ll just get more and more people interested and educated about the sport.”

Spithill, who was 30 when he skippered Oracle Racing’s giant trimaran to victory in 2010, has 84 points in five regattas to lead Team New Zealand by four points. Sweden’s Artemis Racing and its US skipper, Terry Hutchinson, are third with 71 points, followed by France’s Energy Team (65), Team Korea (56) and Oracle’s second team (53).

Rounding out the field are two teams from Italy’s Luna Rossa, Piranha and Swordfish.

China Team is the latest syndicate to drop out, although it has said it intends to develop young sailors through the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup as a bridge to a future all-Chinese America’s Cup sailing team.

Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts returns to helm the syndicate’s second boat. He skippered the boat in the first two ACWS events last year before handing the helm to double Olympic medalist Darren Bundock so he could concentrate on off-the-water duties. Coutts re-joined the crew as tactician in Venice. Bundock will resume his previous coaching role.

“Obviously it would be nice for us to win. We certainly hope that Jimmy Spithill’s team wins it,” said Coutts, a four-time America’s Cup winner.

Coutts also is pleased with the ACWS.

“I think the series is very competitive now,” he said. “There’s not a weak team out there. With Ben Ainslie coming in in the next event, there’s another strong team.”

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