USA start off Amer­ica’s Cup with two wins

New Straits Times - - Sport -

HAMIL­TON (Ber­muda): Or­a­cle Team USA ral­lied to edge Emirates Team New Zealand Satur­day as the 35th Amer­ica’s Cup got un­der­way with two wins for two-time de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Or­a­cle and a col­li­sion in­volv­ing Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR.

The drama un­folded un­der pic­ture-book skies on Ber­muda’s Great Sound, where near gale­force winds had pre­vented the sched­uled start on Fri­day.

For the first time the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons are com­pet­ing in the qual­i­fiers, and Team USA didn’t dis­ap­point.

They de­liv­ered the first of two thump­ings handed out to Groupama Team France be­fore tak­ing on New Zealand in a re­match of the 2013 Amer­ica’s Cup – when the US out­fit won eight straight races to seal one of the big­gest come­back tri­umphs in sport.

Team USA skip­per Jimmy Sp­ithill caught New Zealand as they rounded the mark into the penul­ti­mate leg and went on to win by six sec­onds.

A closely fought start launched a fas­ci­nat­ing con­test that saw Team New Zealand take a 20sec­ond lead at gate three.

But by gate five Sp­ithill had closed the gap and they came to­ward the mark vir­tu­ally side-by­side.

Team USA came out of the turn in front and held on for the win.

“The boys worked very, very hard to­day,” Sp­ithill said. “It was a phys­i­cal day. A cou­ple of big races. But we’re in good shape for to­mor­row.”

After the first day of roundrobin qual­i­fiers Team USA were tied atop the stand­ings with Bri­tain’s Land Rover BAR, both on three points.

The Bri­tish syn­di­cate came into the qual­i­fiers with two bonus points from the Amer­ica’s Cup World Se­ries, from which Team USA brought one point.

They quelled the doubts raised by lack­lus­ter prac­tice race show­ings with an im­pres­sive vic­tory over Swe­den’s Artemis Rac­ing, but the day would end badly for Ainslie’s BAR.

They were pe­nal­ized for a scary pre-start col­li­sion with SoftBank Team Ja­pan and with vis­i­ble dam­age to one hull fin­ished 48 sec­onds be­hind the Ja­panese in the fi­nal race of the day.

The crash came after four-time Olympic gold medal­list Ainslie slammed into Team New Zealand dur­ing prac­tice rac­ing last week, cost­ing the Kiwi team valu­able time on the wa­ter as they made re­pairs.

Ainslie called the in­ci­dent “un­for­tu­nate.”

“We had a side­ways slip just as Dean (Barker) came in and got the lee­ward over­lap. No one wants that, cer­tainly in our po­si­tion as we picked up a penalty and the dam­age. Thank­fully, the most im­por­tant thing is that no one got hurt.” AFP

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