Oracle Team USA scored its first official point of the America's Cup Finals on Sunday, turning the tide by dominating the race from start to finish before Emirates Team New Zealand held on to win the second race of the day.
The best-of-17 series now stands at 7-1 in favor of New Zealand. Oracle has won three of 10 races, but received no points for its first two victories as a penalty for infractions during America's Cup World Series events last year. The Kiwis need just two more victories to take the trophy back to New Zealand for the first time since 2000.
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill maneuvered like the defending champion that he is during the pre-start of the first race, forcing New Zealand to slow as both teams approached the start, then taking off ahead of the Kiwis.
The Americans increased their lead at each gate, finishing 47 seconds ahead. The win was the first Oracle has scored without the benefit of a mistake from New Zealand — the Kiwis had a penalty in Race 4 a week ago, and nearly capsized in Race 8 on Saturday.
The second race of the day was the most competitive of the series so far, with four lead changes and one mistake from Oracle on the fourth leg making all the difference.
The teams were separated by only one second at the end of the third leg, and a decision to slow down to cut behind New Zealand on the fourth leg saw the Kiwis' lead jump from about 20 meters to more than 100 in mere seconds. From there, Oracle was unable to make up the difference, crossing the finish line 17 seconds behind New Zealand.
"It was very important to bounce back after Race 1," New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said. "The Oracle boat sailed a great first race, and there were no opportunities for us there at all. The second one was a very close one. ... We felt we were in a pretty strong position at the bottom, and they sailed again a good upwind and they were right there at the top. I think if you didn't enjoy today's racing out there, you probably should watch another sport."
The changes Oracle made to its boat a few days ago appear to be paying off, as the disadvantage it had in the upwind leg through the first half-dozen races has all but disappeared.
"I wish we had made them about a year ago to be honest," Spithill said of the changes. "I think we might have found a few more. This is the name of the game. This is a development boat. Like any racing sport, ... you're constantly learning how to race. We finally get to the race now, and this is the most we'll learn really, lining up against these guys, I'm sure they're the same. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but the important thing is how you react, and how you go from here on."
New Zealand has a chance to finish the series off if it can sweep two scheduled races Tuesday.