As the sun slowly burnt off the morning marine layer and the AC72s of Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand headed to the start line, the talk in the America’s Cup park on Day Four of the finals was all about the news that Brit Ben Ainslie had been brought in to call tactics on the American boat, leaving former Cup winner John Kostecki on the sidelines.
If the Americans thought that the change would bring fresh vigour to the defender’s performance, though, the hope was shortlived. After gaining an advantage at the start of Race 6 – for which Kiwi skipper Dean Barker later admitted he had been ‘asleep’, a two-leg advantage for Oracle Team USA was overturned on another blistering upwind leg by Emirates Team New Zealand, during which the challenger overturned the deficit to steal the win by an impressive 47 seconds.
In Race 7, Barker had obviously woken up and held the windward position as they fired into the start, hitting the line on foils at 38 knots with second-perfect timing. From there the New Zealanders held the advantage all round the course, stretching out even further on the upwind leg to secure an emphatic win by 1:06. The two wins put the Kiwis within shouting distance of a scoreline clean sweep, having reached six of the nine wins required to take the Cup back down under.
‘It’s nice to get two more points, but there’s still a long way to go,’ said Barker after the racing. As most of the post-race questions were aimed at Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill, and in particular the decision to switch to Ainslie for tactics, there was not a lot more for Barker to say. ‘You’ve got a lot of gold medals at the back of the boat,’ he quipped in good humour at one point to Spithill. ‘You’ve got to hope you don’t get tangled up in those!’
When asked what they could do to turn things around, Spithill’s answer was clear cut. ‘We can not give up,’ he said. ‘There’s still a lot of racing, and I’m still convinced we can win races. We made a change at the back of the boat. We’ll study the data and see what we can do to change up the boat.’
The Americans certainly need to do something. While the performance of the boats has been near equal on many phases of the race, the startling difference in upwind performance in a range of conditions must be giving considerable concern for the US team. With the finish line for the New Zealanders looming ever larger, time is running out for Oracle Team USA. The teams have another lay day to work on boatspeed and strategy, and racing resumes on Saturday 14 September.