Crew change doesn't stop Oracle's slide in America's Cup 

click to enlarge Team New Zealand
  • Evan DuCharme/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Team New Zealand

A change in tacticians aboard Oracle Team USA generated all the buzz leading into Thursday's installments in the America's Cup Finals, but in the end it made little difference, as Emirates Team New Zealand swept both races on the day to take a 6-0 advantage in the series. Oracle technically is seven races behind because it will not receive credit for its next win as part a two-point penalty prior to the Finals.

The Kiwis need just three more wins to take the trophy back to New Zealand for the first time since 2003.

British Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie replaced Bay Area native John Kostecki as Oracle's tactician, and it seemed at the start of the first race that it paid off, as the American team held a 12-second lead at the second gate.

It was not to last, however, as New Zealand continued to dominate the upwind leg of the course, more than making up for the early deficit and leading by 47 seconds through the third gate in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. In the end, it crossed the finish line 47 seconds ahead of Oracle.

The second race was even less of a contest, as New Zealand got out ahead at the start and never looked back, finishing 1 minute, 6 seconds ahead.

Dean Barker, the ever stoic skipper for New Zealand, pointed to the poor start of the first race as a sign that the team still has plenty of work ahead.

"I do apologize to the guys out there for the start," he said. "I was completely asleep all the way through that start, but the thing which was great was the way the guys got straight back into the jibe and kept it close enough."

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said the change in tacticians came from a recognition that what the team had been doing obviously wasn't working. He said the decision was his alone, and that Kostecki understood a change was necessary, and was quick to have a conversation with Ainslie regarding strategy before the race.

Spithill said the next step is to improve the boat itself before Saturday's races, and he said he wasn't sure whether the team would be practicing on the water today.

Despite Thursday's result, he said the pressure in this race is still on New Zealand.

"I think the question is, imagine if these guys lost from here," he said of New Zealand. "What an upset that would be. They've almost got it in the bag, so that's my motivation. That'd be one hell of a story, that'd be one hell of a story, and that's the kind of thing I'd like to be a part of."

If New Zealand does not lose another race, it could finish the series off as early as Sunday's first race. Oracle still needs 10 more wins to retain the Cup.

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