HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand ramped up the pressure on defending champions Oracle Team USA with their fourth successive win in the America’s Cup final to go 3-0 up after the second day of racing on Sunday.
Oracle had entered the series with a one-point advantage from an earlier regatta, which New Zealand wiped out after winning the first race on Saturday.
The Kiwi team continued to excel in light-wind sailing and again showed superior speed and slick maneuvers, whipping their 50-foot foiling catamaran around the course at a maximum speed of 38.5 kph.
“It’s pretty obvious these guys are faster and we need to make some serious changes,” Jimmy Spithill, Oracle Team USA’s skipper said at a post-race news conference.
Spithill’s Oracle team now face an uphill battle to win the 35th edition of the competition, where the trophy is earned by the first team to reach seven points.
New Zealand are closing in on winning the America’s Cup, having claimed four of the eight races they need to recapture the world’s oldest international sporting competition.
Spithill is no stranger to adversity as he and his team made one of the biggest-ever comebacks in sporting history when they rallied from 8-1 down against New Zealand to win the ‘Auld Mug’ in San Francisco in 2013 when the winner was the first to nine.
“This team has been here before. We’ve been in a tough situation before and overcome a lot of different challenges and now we’ve got to respond,” Spithill said.
With a five-day gap until the next races, Oracle will work 24-hour days with their design and technical team to improve their boat speed, as they seek to match New Zealand’s edge.
“Clearly, now we need to put everything back on the table. The next five days will be the most important five days of the competition,” Spithill said.
Kiwi helmsman Peter Burling, 26, won both starts in the third and fourth races, as he had on Saturday, which has been a surprise against Spithill who is famously aggressive on the start line and has greater match-racing experience.
Both teams sailed well on Sunday, with fewer obvious mistakes than in Saturday’s races, and the differences in performance came down to pure speed.
“Today was a really good day for us and we feel like we improved a lot on yesterday,” Burling told a news conference.
The New Zealand team are a fast, well-oiled machine with their aerodynamic pod of four ‘cyclor’ sailors, who supply the energy needed to power the boat’s massive wing sail by pedaling on bikes.
The team’s light wind expertise is due in part to an efficient package of hydrofoils that lift the boat out of the water at high speed.
“The Kiwis have geared up very well, their light air package with their rudders and their foils are very efficient in that light wind,” said Jonathan ‘Jono’ Macbeth, sailing team manager and grinder for Britain’s Land Rover BAR,
The Kiwi’s control system, which is manned by skipper Glenn Ashby, means that they can also be fast and accurate going into maneuvers and coming out.
Oracle Team USA’s track record of performing when their backs are against the wall and the intervening five days should set up a fascinating showdown to the competition as both teams race to modify their boats and improve performance.
“There’s a long, long way to go in this regatta and, as we saw last time in San Francisco, things can change very quickly,” said Macbeth, whose team lost to New Zealand in an earlier round.
Reporting by Tessa Walsh; Editing by Ken Ferris