Thu, Sep 26, 2013 - Page 20 News List

Oracle pull even in epic comeback

HISTORIC RALLY:Oracle Team USA, who only last week seemed set to lose the America’s Cup to Emirates Team New Zealand, came back to force a deciding showdown

Reuters, SAN FRANCISCO

Emirates Team New Zealand, right, and Oracle Team USA compete during Race 18 in the America’s Cup finals on San Francisco Bay in San Francisco, California, on Tuesday.

Photo: EPA

Oracle Team USA won two more races against Emirates Team New Zealand to even up the America’s Cup finals on Tuesday, continuing an epic comeback in a regatta that once looked like a Kiwi cakewalk and will now be decided by a single winner-take-all showdown.

The deciding race in what will be the longest America’s Cup in its 162-year history was scheduled for yesterday.

The stunning recovery for the team backed by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison continued on every front in perfect sailing conditions on Tuesday. The US boat came from behind to win the second race easily and now has seven straight victories, another America’s Cup milestone.

New Zealand dominated that start for the first time in recent races, but then committed several tactical errors and Oracle stormed to a lead of nearly a minute at the finish.

In the first race the reeling Kiwi team drew a double penalty as the two boats crossed the starting line, which allowed Oracle to jump to an insurmountable lead.

New Zealand once led the competition 8-1, and numerous Kiwi fans in San Francisco and back home in New Zealand were ready to celebrate victory in a grueling two-year-long cup campaign. The New Zealand government contributed about US$30 million to the effort to bring the cup back to the sailing-crazed nation.

However, boat improvements, superior tactics and sharper sailing by Oracle have turned their fortunes around, evidenced in the second race on Tuesday when the team appeared to show more speed on every leg of the race.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work at night with design engineering technicians,” Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said after the first race. “The boat is just going faster and faster, and the boys are really starting to believe.”

New Zealand skipper Dean Barker acknowledged in comments after the races that Oracle were now faster on the upwind legs in heavier winds. New Zealand pioneered the so-called “foiling” in which the big boats lift almost completely out of the water and sail on small horizontal wings attached to their daggerboards and rudders, but Oracle are now doing it more effectively on the critical upwind leg.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen conditions where we were not as good as we needed to be,” Barker said.

Spithill had put on a brave face through the early losses, insisting that the event was “far from over” even when his team needed an implausible nine straight wins to keep the oldest trophy in sports. His bravado, backed by consistently shrewd maneuvers at the start, has now been vindicated.

“There’s a huge wave of momentum we’ve been riding and it just builds and builds and builds,” Spithill said after Tuesday’s victories.

Barker sailed nearly flawlessly for much of the summer as the Kiwis trounced Italian and Swedish challengers for the right to race Oracle. His dominance continued in the early races of the final as the Kiwis showed better speed upwind and much smoother tacking.

However, the team have appeared to come apart in the face of the Oracle comeback and a run of bad luck that saw two races in which it was leading called off due to wind conditions.

The start of Tuesday’s first race featured classic match-racing drama. New Zealand miscalculated and bumped Oracle, which had the right of way, as it maneuvered to block its rival on the approach to the line.

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