Dennis Conner, who first sailed in an America's Cup competition in 1974, made his return to competition when he took the wheel of Stars & Stripes for its match against Mascalzone Latino.
Conner, who hadn't sailed a Louis Vuitton Cup race in three years looked like he'd never been away, steering his team to its second victory in Round Robin Two.
On the same race course this morning, Oracle BMW Racing earned its second consecutive big win with its new afterguard configuration, beating series leader Alinghi in an extremely close battle, after knocking down OneWorld on Friday. The American team earned a second win in the afternoon.
The French Le Défi camp celebrated its first win of the competition today, taking advantage of a major boat handling error on OneWorld to earn a valuable point.
Conditions were again ideal for the morning matches, with Westerlies of 15-20 knots making racing exciting on the Hauraki Gulf.
Louis Vuitton Cup Round Robin Two, Race Day Six
Orm (SWE-73) Beat Wight Lightning (GBR-70) - Delta 01:01
With both boats on equal points, both fighting for the coveted fifth place in the quarter-finals pairings and both teams considered to be evenly matched, the race between GBR Challenge, and skipper Ian Walker and Victory Challenge promised to be close. Yet despite the anticipation, neither team seemed keen to engage in close boat for boat action during the pre-start. In fact, both were late entering the box. Having killed time on the right hand side of the start area, both boats headed back into the start line with Wight Lightning leading the way. At the start gun Wight Lightning was slightly ahead but Orm helmsman Jesper Bank quickly converted his position into more height and appeared to climb away from the British. The Swedish team seemed to have consistently more height and rounded the weather mark 43 seconds ahead. On the downwind leg the Swedes seemed once again to have the performance advantage and extended their lead to round over one minute clear ahead. After this, the British weren't able to seriously threaten their opponents, and Victory Challenge went on to earn a valuable win.
Le Défi (FRA-69) Beat Oneworld (USA-67) - Delta 00:57
Luc Pillot steered Le Défi across the finish line to immense French jubilation as his team scored its first point in the 2002 Louis Vuitton Cup. With regular skipper Peter Gilmour and helmsman James Spithill taking a rest day, Kelvin Harrap took over the helm on OneWorld, with Morgan Larson calling the shots. The Americans built up well-earned lead by the time the boats approached the leeward mark after a close first leg. But disaster struck OneWorld with the spinnaker drop at the leeward mark. The 'kite' fell into the water and got caught by the rudder as the boat sailed over the debris. OneWorld had to slow and bear away to free the spinnaker and Le Défi was able to sail past to steal the lead. With the American boat still struggling, Le Défi built up an advantage of over 300 metres by the time OneWorld was back up to speed. Le Défi was then able to cover OneWorld's late attempt at a fight back and the crew were visibly happy and relieved to claim their first win.
USA-76 Beat Alinghi (SUI-64) - Delta 00:04
This was a close match all the way around the race course, and the final delta was an accurate reflection of how evenly matched these two teams are at this point in time. Peter Holmberg, steering USA-76, set up nicely on the start line, selecting a safe leeward position as the boats hit the line at the gun on starboard tack. Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts couldn't find enough speed to sail over top of USA-76 and was soon forced to tack away. Holmberg and skipper Chris Dickson converted that early advantage into a 25-second lead at the top mark by carefully selecting the wind shifts and looked secure starting the first run. But Alinghi kept pecking away and at the second windward mark trailed by just eight seconds. Dickson and Holmberg bore away sharply as USA-76 rounded the mark, preventing Alinghi from getting inside, and Coutts reacted by pushing hard to windward, the Swiss eventually using their larger spinnaker to roll over the top of the American boat. Although USA-76 trailed for the first time, the race was by no means over. Dickson sailed Coutts out to the layline, before he was forced to gybe, and with USA-76 now the windward boat, Dickson was able to squeeze past Coutts and cross the finish line ahead for the narrowest of victories.
Stars & Stripes (USA-66) Beat Mascalzone Latino (ITA-72) - Delta 01:09
Making his return to America's Cup Class racing for the first time since 1999, Dennis Conner guided his Stars & Stripes, USA-66, to victory over Mascalzone Latino. Conner hasn't driven an ACC sloop since December 1999, when he lost to Bravo España, but the master of time and distance showed his deft touch at the helm in posting his team's second victory of Round Robin Two. Conner, seemingly stuck in Mascalzone's bad air on port tack in the final seconds of the pre-start, simply held his course while Mascalzone tacked away to starboard. With about 10 seconds to the start, Conner tacked to starboard at the Race Committee boat end and crossed the line with speed, immediately asserting control of the match. He rode Mascalzone Latino's Flavio Favini out to the port-tack layline before leading back toward the mark. Conner and Stars & Stripes led by 21 seconds at the windward mark and were well on their way to a solid win.
USA-76 Beat Stars & Stripes (USA-66) - Delta 00:18
A heart-pumping pre-start saw Stars & Stripes almost hit the race committee boat as the start gun was fired. Helmsman Ken Read, taking over for Dennis Conner after the morning race, was trying to burn time with a series of up and down manoeuvres. He put fear into the race committee when he hardened up at the gun and just cleared the boat. Stars & Stripes remained close to the faster USA-76 around the first windward mark and then attacked on the run. The navy blue sloop got to leeward of the black boat near the leeward mark, tried to hold the opponent out but Oracle BMW Racing's helmsman Peter Holmberg was able to round 9 seconds ahead. On the next beat Holmberg kept a tight cover on Star & Stripes, rode them out past the starboard layline and then rounded the windward mark with a 28-second lead that it would not relinquish.
Wight Lightning (GBR-70) Beat Le Défi (FRA-69) - Delta 00:14
An exciting battle between the British and the French led to a grand stand finish with skipper Ian Walker steering Wight Lightning to a thrilling win after Le Defi led around the first lap of the course. Luc Pillot at the helm of the yellow boat was first out of the starting blocks with a well timed run to the start line. GBR Challenge started just to leeward and the speeds were very evenly matched, leading to a two tack beat. The French did well to hold their windward lane and took Wight Lightning skipper Ian Walker all the way to the port tack layline and beyond. When the boats eventually tacked, Le Defi was able to lead in, to round the first windward mark just eight seconds ahead. After a close downwind tussle, the tension on the French boat was palpable as Le Defi extended their lead around the leeward mark to ten seconds. On the second beat British tactician Adrian Stead called for a tack to the right and the French failed to cover, letting Wight Lightning squeeze ahead with a right hand shift. On the run, the French crew was let down by its crew work and was unable to mount an effective attack.
Alinghi (SUI-64) Vs. Luna Rossa (ITA-74) - Race Abandoned Due To Heavy Wind