After staging an improbable comeback from 7 points behind and with no margin for error, ORACLE TEAM USA has forced a winner-take-all race tomorrow for the 34th America’s Cup after sweeping both races today.
ORACLE TEAM USA won Race 17 by 27 seconds and Race 18 by 54 seconds and now stands even with Emirates Team New Zealand on the scoreboard with 8 points each. Only twice before in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup has there been a winner-take-all final race, in 1920 and 1983. In 1920 the defender won and in ’83 the challenger won.
The Kiwis have been on match point since last Wednesday, Sept. 18, but now face the possibility of watching the defender stage perhaps the most historic comeback in sport. Already ORACLE TEAM USA has won 10 races, but has 8 points because of a penalty imposed by the International Jury.
“We do believe we can win, we’ve known we can win this thing for a long time,” said Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. “It’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to do it. We have to do everything right and sail as well as we can. We’re going to prepare as we have been and we have confidence we can win this. No one’s slightly head down or lacking in confidence. We know if we put the pieces together we’ll be successful.”
ORACLE TEAM USA has been staring down the barrel of defeat with the slightest of slipups for the past week. Skipper Jimmy Spithill has played the underdog role since the Kiwis got to match point, and he’s still playing that theme in the hopes of a successful defense.
“I think we are the underdog, and I’m going to keep running with that and use that energy for tomorrow,” said Spithill, who at 30 years old in 2010 became the youngest to skipper an America’s Cup winner. “The exciting thing for me is seeing how this team has gelled together. Sometimes you need to face that barrel of the gun to come together. You can get wobbly in the knees or you can look into the barrel. Every day we’ve managed to step it up more.”
The Kiwis let a great opportunity at victory slip through their hands in Race 18. Barker fended off Spithill in the prestart, gaining a leeward position off the start line, and led at the first turning mark by 5 seconds with both boats blasting along on the verge of control. In fact, Emirates Team New Zealand set the outright speed record for the Summer of Racing at 47.57 knots (55 mph/88 kph/80 feet/second) at the mark rounding.
Barker increased his lead to 7 seconds at the leeward gate, but on the upwind leg ORACLE TEAM USA showed the blazing speed that makes it look at times unbeatable. Spithill guided his AC72 onto its hydrofoils and sailed over the top of the Kiwis and into the lead.
Once in the lead the defender sped away, foiling at more than 30 knots, and turned the 7-second deficit into a 49-second lead at the windward gate, averaging more than 1 knot faster on the 3-nautical-mile upwind leg.
“It’s clear to see they were going pretty damn well,” said Barker. “It was the first time that we recognized there was a condition where maybe we aren’t as strong as we need to be. It’s tough. We’re doing all we can, the guys never gave up, but clearly the Oracle guys were going well in that stuff.”
It was Spithill who got the better of Barker in Race 17. Spithill got a late hook on Barker and luffed his competitor. Barker was required to keep clear but the two yachts collided three times, with ORACLE TEAM USA’s starboard hull bouncing off of Emirates Team New Zealand’s port hull. The umpires penalized Emirates Team New Zealand twice, which allowed the defender to open a lead it would not relinquish.
“We saw an opportunity there at the start and it was great to be able to put it together,” said Spithill. “It was a really physical race and the boys really dug in.”
“That start was an absolute shocker,” said Barker. “We tried to mix it up a bit but really put ourselves in a bad, bad spot. We tried to bring them down the line, but we were just way too early; 40 seconds before the start we knew we had a bit on.”
Race 19, the race of the 21st century, is scheduled to start tomorrow at 1:15 p.m.
34th America’s Cup Standings (first to 9 points wins)
- ORACLE TEAM USA – 8 (10 wins; ORACLE TEAM USA was penalized its first two victories by the International Jury)
- Emirates Team New Zealand – 8
Race 17 Performance Data
- Course: 5 Legs/10.11 nautical miles
- Elapsed Time: OTUSA – 24:04, ETNZ – 24:31
- Delta: OTUSA +:27
- Total distance sailed: OTUSA – 11.8 NM, ETNZ – 11.6 NM
- Average Speed: OTUSA – 29.62 knots (34 mph), ETNZ – 28.63 knots (33 mph)
- Top Speed: OTUSA – 44.02 knots (51 mph), ETNZ – 46.33 knots (53 mph)
- Windspeed: Average – 16.8 knots, Peak – 20.0 knots
- Number of Tacks/Jibes: OTUSA – 8/6, ETNZ – 7/5
Race 18 Performance Data
- Course: 5 Legs/10.11 nautical miles
- Elapsed Time: OTUSA – 22:01, ETNZ – 22:55
- Delta: OTUSA +:54
- Total distance sailed: OTUSA – 11.7 NM, ETNZ – 11.9 NM
- Average Speed: OTUSA – 31.92 knots (37 mph), ETNZ – 31.23 knots (36 mph)
- Top Speed: OTUSA – 45.79 knots (53 mph), ETNZ – 47.57 knots (55 mph)
- Windspeed: Average – 19.3 knots, Peak – 21.8 knots
- Number of Tacks/Jibes: OTUSA – 7/7, ETNZ – 10/6
Photo Credit: ACEA / Gilles Martin-Raget
– PR –