Dean Barker's Emirates Team New Zealand won the fisticuffs on the Bay of Naples, but it was ORACLE TEAM USA's Tom Slingsby who is on the verge of securing the season-long battle for the 2012-2013 America's Cup World Series Championship in Jimmy Spithill's No. 4 boat.
Spithill led ORACLE TEAM USA
to the inaugural America's Cup World Series season championship last year, and opened a 44-point lead through the first two regattas in the second season of racing.
He couldn't attend this week's regatta because the team is about to launch its second AC72 in preparation for the upcoming 34th America's Cup in San Francisco (Sept. 7-21) so in stepped London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Tom Slingsby.
Slingsby has shown a steady hand in his first America's Cup World Series regatta, leading the team into the match racing championship and also eyeing a chance to win the fleet racing championship. But regardless of how he finishes, ORACLE TEAM USA is in a strong position for the overall season championship (barring an unforeseen circumstance).
"It's great for the team, winning the America's Cup World Series for the second year in a row,"
said Slingsby. "I'm glad I could help in some way, but this championship doesn't belong to me. It belongs to Jimmy and his team for setting it all up. I came in with a nice big lead."
In some of the most challenging conditions seen yet at America's Cup World Series Naples, Emirates Team New Zealand showed jet-like speed in winning both of today's fleet races. The wind strength ranged between 7 and 12 knots but there was a nasty chop on the bay that placed added emphasis on smooth boathandling.
After scoring the double firsts, Emirates Team New Zealand is the third overall leader of the series in as many days. Barker's crew led the first race from start to finish and then pulled off a nifty pass on Luna Rossa Swordfish (Francesco Bruni) to win the second race.
"I feel like all through training and racing we've had good pace through all the conditions,"
said Barker. "But there's a bit of a mistral pushing a little bit of seaway into the bay. It makes these boats nasty to sail, they don't like waves. But it rewards good crew work and I think that's a strength of our team."
Slingsby placed 2-5 in the two fleet races and trails Emirates Team New Zealand by 5 points. The ORACLE TEAM USA tactician/strategist began his day with a victory in the match racing semi final over Ben Ainslie's J.P. Morgan BAR. Although the two are brothers in arms in ORACLE TEAM USA, there was no quarter given in their quick, 11-minute match race.
The pair was locked in battle up the first beat when Slingsby won the first cross. He gained a bit of control over Ainslie but almost gave it away at the windward mark. Ainslie was on port tack in the three-boatlength circle ahead of Slingsby on starboard tack. Under the racing rules Ainslie had rights to round the mark, but Slingsby crossed and rounded the left-hand mark while Ainslie bore away to round the right-hand mark.
"We peeled off on the gate. The left-hand side of the course seemed to be working. It was pretty close,"
said Ainslie. "Full credit to them, hopefully they can win tomorrow."
ORACLE TEAM USA races Luna Rossa Swordfish in tomorrow's match racing championship. Bruni also won an in-house battle in the semi finals when he beat Chris Draper and the Luna Rossa Piranha crew. The two squared off after an extended training period in New Zealand.
"I feel comfortable, I feel all the training we have done in Auckland was very useful,"
said Bruni. "We really put a lot of hours into our match racing skills. I think Chris has improved a lot and I've improved a lot steering."
Slingsby, who has overcome the pressure of winning a Gold medal as a heavy favorite, has his sights set high for tomorrow.
"I want to win tomorrow,"
Slingsby said. "New Zealand has a nice lead right now, but if we win tomorrow we'll take the glory. For the team it's great, but for me personally my job's not done yet. I want to win tomorrow.
"This is my one chance in an America's Cup World Series. Who knows when the next event will be so I'm trying to make most of it,"
America's Cup World Series Naples Championship Standings
(Provisional, after 6 of 7 scheduled races)
1. Emirates Team New Zealand (Dean Barker) - 60 points
2. ORACLE TEAM USA (Tom Slingsby) - 55
3. J.P. Morgan BAR (Ben Ainslie) - 52
4. Luna Rossa Piranha (Chris Draper) - 50
5. Energy Team (Yann Guichard) - 42
6. Luna Rossa Swordfish (Francesco Bruni) - 40
7. Artemis Racing White (Charlie Ekberg) - 31
8. HS Racing (R. Hagara/H.S. Steinacher) - 26
9. China Team (Mitch Booth) - 22
2012-2013 America's Cup World Series Season Championship
(Provisional, after 20 of 21 races)
1. ORACLE TEAM USA SPITHILL/SLINGSBY - 220 points
2. Luna Rossa Piranha - 171
3. J.P. Morgan BAR - 168
4. Emirates Team New Zealand - 160
5. Artemis Racing White - 151
6. Energy Team - 144
7. Luna Rossa Swordfish - 111
8. Team Korea - 105
9. ORACLE TEAM USA COUTTS - 98
10. Artemis Racing Red - 90
11. China Team - 65
12. HS Racing - 26
Sunday's Match Racing Schedule
Final: ORACLE TEAM USA SLINGSBY vs. Luna Rossa Swordfish
Provisional Match Racing Standings
3rd place - J.P. Morgan BAR, 4th - Luna Rossa Piranha, 5th - Emirates Team New Zealand, 6th - Artemis Racing White, 7th - Energy Team, 8th - HS Racing, 9th - China Team