Oracle goes 2-1 to take lead in America's Cup qualifiers
Two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA won't go undefeated in this America's Cup regatta and Groupama Team France won't go winless.
On an afternoon of light, shifty winds on the turquoise waters of Bermuda's Great Sound, Oracle won two of three races to take a two-point lead in the America's Cup qualifiers. Groupama Team France opened Sunday's racing with a stunning upset of Artemis Racing of Sweden.
Britain's Land Rover BAR got its foiling 50-foot catamaran patched up overnight after a frightening collision with SoftBank Team Japan on Saturday. But skipper Ben Ainslie and crew gave up the lead in their two races and were beaten handily by Oracle and Emirates Team New Zealand. That's not a good sign for a country that's tried for 166 years to win back the silver trophy it lost to the schooner America in 1851.
Oracle, skippered by Australia Jimmy Spithill, beat Land Rover BAR by 39 seconds, lost to Artemis by 39 seconds, and routed stablemate SoftBank Team Japan by 54 seconds.
This is the first time the defender has sailed against challengers in the preliminaries. If Oracle wins the qualifiers, it will carry a one-point bonus into the first-of-seven America's Cup match beginning June 17.
Spithill is determined to get that point, even if the team, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, isn't always perfect.
''It was a day where it was really easy to make mistakes,'' said Spithill, who led Oracle to a rousing comeback win over Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2013 America's Cup on San Francisco Bay. ''We actually made quite a lot of them, especially early on in the first two starts. As we saw today, if you sailed well, the boat speed really didn't matter. It was really about trying to avoid all those minefields out there.''
Oracle has five points, followed by Emirates Team Zealand and Land Rover BAR with three apiece. Land Rover BAR entered with two bonus points from preliminary regattas, while Oracle entered with one bonus point. Artemis has two points and SoftBank Team Japan and France one apiece.
Oracle is finished with the first round robin, which continues with three races Monday. The second round robin starts Tuesday, after which one challenger will be eliminated. Oracle will then train on its own while the challengers sail their semifinals and finals.
Beating Artemis by 3 seconds ''was really good for the team,'' French skipper Franck Cammas said. ''They worked two years for that. It's good for the mind, it's good for the maturation for the next days.''
With the weekend crowded due to Friday's schedule being blown out by too much wind, Oracle was the only team to sail three races Sunday. It swapped out two of the workhorse grinders per race. Due to the way the rotation works, Aussie Ky Hurst sailed the last two races.
''Give full credit to the boys; three races,'' Spithill said. ''The guys are in great shape, so it's not really an issue in terms of the physical side for the guys.''
Oracle recovered from a bad start against Land Rover BAR and passed the Brits about halfway through the race. The American lead grew as Land Rover BAR came off its foils and buried its bows in the water just after the weather mark, a recurring problem.
Artemis skipper Nathan Outteridge, also an Aussie, got the best of Spithill at the start of their race. Oracle got close, but Artemis played the shifts for a big win.
Oracle had no trouble against SoftBank Team Japan, which is led by Dean Barker, the former skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand. The two syndicates shared a design package, but SoftBank Team Japan, a startup syndicate, is clearly behind on the sailing front.
Spithill wasn't surprised with the big difference between Oracle and Japan.
''When you look at the conditions, it's no surprise at all that either team could have been a long way ahead,'' he said. ''No disrespect to Franck, but I think Artemis is a team that the bookies would have had odds-on to win that race, and Franck and the guys just sailed better. It clearly shows that today was about sailing well and trying to avoid some of the tough spots out there.''
Ainslie said the shore team ''did an amazing job'' of patching a hole in the port hull left by Saturday's collision. ''It's just a shame we couldn't repay that work with some wins today,'' he said.
Barker said his boat still needs some work after Saturday's crash.
''The shore crew are looking forward to when Ben's going to bring some beers down,'' Barker said. ''It didn't happen last night, so I'm guessing' he'll probably do it tonight.''
Emirates Team New Zealand beat Japan by 33 seconds and Britain by 1:28.
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