Team New Zealand ease to victory against Luna Rossa
Team New Zealand send Italians packing and now set their sights on dethroning Americans
Associated Press in San Francisco
Team New Zealand finished off the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series with an emphatic 7-1 margin, setting up the ultimate America's Cup grudge match between two teams who have spent the summer trading verbal jabs.
Emirates Team New Zealand zipped through a thick fog and past Italy's Luna Rossa again to finish off the challenger series and advance to the premier event against defending champions and bitter rivals Oracle Team USA. The best-of-17 America's Cup starts on September 7.
This is the fifth time since 1995 that Team New Zealand have reached the America's Cup match. The only time they didn't make it was in 2010, which was a one-off between Oracle and Switzerland's Alinghi following a bitter court fight.
The New Zealand team turned this challenger series into a no-contest.
The closest margin was one minute, 28 seconds, and Luna Rossa's lone win came when Team New Zealand dropped out because the electronics system that controls the hydraulics of their catamaran failed.
After winning the final race - in the lightest wind of the series due to a fog that blanketed San Francisco Bay - the Kiwis sounded their horn as they crossed the line and toasted sparkling wine on the boat while taking a victory lap near thousands who crowded the corner piers.
"The only reason we're in San Francisco is to take the cup away," said Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton, who also serves as a grinder.
Skipper Dean Barker believes the challenger series helped his team learn the course and polish their performances, foiling faster - and even upwind - and pulling off more foiling gybes under all kinds of conditions.
Oracle tactician Darren Bundock brushed that off, saying his team were better prepared because they had had closer competitions in two-boat practice races - something no other team can do - than anything the Kiwis faced in the challengers.
In a race for the oldest active trophy in international sports, the bitterness between both offers one of the more scintillating subplots in recent America's Cup matches.
Dalton and Barker both accused Oracle Team USA of cheating after it was revealed the US syndicate illegally modified their boats in the America's Cup World Series, a warm-up to this summer's racing.