Oracle dig deep to grab first victory in America’s Cup
Defending champs ensure America's Cup series whitewash is no longer a possibility and hope breakthrough signals change in momentum
Oracle Team USA scored their first victory of the 34th America's Cup, scuttling a budding sweep by challengers New Zealand.
The defending champions won the fourth race after finishing in the wake of Emirates Team New Zealand in the previous three battles on the San Francisco Bay.
"It was huge," Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said of the importance of the victory to him and his crew. "A lesser team would probably have crumbled," he continued, referring to the pressure for a win.
"It feels good to shift the momentum over towards us and we will come out with the same attitude on Tuesday [for the next two races of the best-of-17 series]."
The Kiwis are in the enviable position of needing only six more victories to take yachting's coveted Cup home to New Zealand.
Oracle need 10 more wins to keep possession of the prize, thanks to a two-point penalty imposed on the team before racing began.
New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said his team remained confident, having sailed "what we thought was a pretty average race" but finishing only eight seconds behind Oracle.
Oracle took the lead early in the fourth race and fought relentlessly to fend off powerful thrusts by the challengers to grab the lead.
Oracle nearly lost their advantage early with a slip, dropping a daggerboard into the water and sending the bow plunging during a turn at a gate. "It was an obvious mistake and put us under pressure right away," Spithill said. "But, I was happy to see these guys really keeping their cool."
The mistake let the Kiwis nearly even the race, but Oracle managed to tack ahead and push the challenger to a less-favoured part of the course.
Oracle held tenuous control of the race with the Kiwis closing the gap and trailing by just five seconds at the last marker.
New Zealand had won the first race of the day, snatching an early lead from Oracle. "We did a good job on the first one to get back in front," Barker said. "The second one, we could have done things a little better than we did."
Despite controversy that has followed the decision to use the AC72 speedsters for the first time in Cup history, rocketing manoeuvres excited spectators who referred to matches with terms such as "nail-biter".
"It probably looked a little like that," New Zealand team member Adam Beashel said when someone compared racing the catamarans to riding bucking broncos. "But on board, you kind of get used to it."
At a press briefing after the races on Sunday, Barker playfully assured Spithill he would be free to visit the Cup if the Kiwis take it home to New Zealand.
"Two much rain," Australia-born Spithill retorted.