Team NZ fight back to win dramatic race
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Do Oracle still have a chance to retain the America's Cup?
Team New Zealand staged a brilliant fightback to hold off a charging Oracle and get to within two wins of the America's Cup today.
Having lost the opening race of the day by a massive 47-seconds, Dean Barker won the dog-fight in the second race to claim a treasured 17-second victory.
After yesterday's near-capsize and subsequent loss, followed by today's first-up defeat, halting the momentum of the aggressive Americans was crucial.
Somehow they did that in the closest race of the regatta.
Team New Zealand now lead 7-1 on the water and need two wins to claim the America's Cup. Oracle with their jury penalties factored in, still need eight wins to keep the Auld Mug.
Spithill got off the start line with better acceleration in the second race today, but Barker held his inside line and the overlap to the first mark and managed to get a good gain, throwing Spithill wide.
Heading downwind Barker managed to keep that edge and actually extend it.
The Kiwis led by 11-seconds at the bottom mark and the third leg into the wind became the most memorable of the final in terms of sheer performance.
Oracle, as they had during the day's first race, showed much better speed and tacking ability to eat into the Kiwis' lead.
The defenders eventually got in front, but New Zealand got into a tacking duel and regained the lead - just.
It seemed that every time one of the boats got to the right-hand side of the course, gains were there for the taking and the crosses became closer and closer.
Team New Zealand managed to battle their way back and they rounded the top mark only one-second in front.
But the Kiwis got the better area of the course to work with downwind, and tactician Ray Davies made the right calls on the run to hold Oracle at bay.
To end the day 1-all was a decent effort after the disappointment of the first race which Oracle dominated from start to finish - Spithill trounced Barker in the box and never relented, as their improvements became alarmingly clear to the Kiwi camp.
There is no racing tomorrow and Team New Zealand will have to have a good look at their boat and systems to try to squeeze something more out of Aotearoa, because this sprint to the finish of the regatta is getting nerve-racking.
The relief was obvious on Barker's face as he spoke from the boat later.
"We did a good job managing the race," he said.
He was confident that he had Spithill in that vital opening reach and felt that was crucial. Oracle lost a few boat lengths in that bearaway.
But the third leg was an absolute haggle.
"We started that leg well but they got a good shift and took a big chunk out of us and suddenly it was all on," Barker said.
"They are going well, they have stepped up as we expected they would. They have found another gear in these conditions."
Spithill lamented the first two legs of this race but felt his crew had done a great job getting back into the race on the third leg, where their improvements were obvious.
"I think the boat is going great," he said.
The decision in their camp will be what to do with their lay-day tomorrow.
They obviously made good use of their time overnight and now they must factor crew work against boat work tomorrow.
"We have a few more ideas," Spithill said.
"We will have taken some big lessons from this. If we can, we'll get the boat back out on the water."
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