SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Emirates Team New Zealand will have to wait at least one more day to wrap up a spot in the America's Cup match against defending champion Oracle Team USA.
The Kiwis set a race record of more than 54 mph on the new 72-foot catamarans Saturday, sailing swiftly in a strong wind to overpower Italy's Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals again. Officials scrapped the second race because of exceeding wind.
Two races are planned Sunday, though Team New Zealand only needs one win to advance.
The Kiwis lead Luna Rossa 6-1 in the best-of-13 challenger series. The winner will face Oracle for the oldest active trophy in international sports starting Sept. 7.
Officials pushed back Saturday's first race about 10 minutes waiting for the big bay breezes to calm. The wind finally dipped down just below the 22.9-knot limit, or 26.35 mph, which is adjusted for the tide.
With a strong flood tide allowing for even faster conditions, the Kiwis crushed the current and the competition more than they ever had before.
Skipper Dean Barker guided Team New Zealand ahead at the first marker — just like he has in every race of the series — by moving over the top and quickly getting the high-performance catamaran up on its foils. The Italians, who thought a stronger breeze could keep them closer, watched the Kiwis build a bigger lead at every turn.
With a win no longer in question, Barker never backed off.
The Kiwis hit 47.18 knots, or 54.29 mph, during the bear-away in a daring and dangerous display of speed and power. The team's previous race record was 44.15 knots, according to regatta officials. Luna Rossa also set a personal best of 43.46 knots, though the Italians never seriously contended in the race.
Team New Zealand won by 1 minute, 58 seconds.
The one Luna Rossa win in the finals of the challenger series came in the second race, when the Kiwis withdrew because the electronics system that controls the hydraulics failed. Team New Zealand called that an odd occurrence and promised it wouldn't be beat by a mechanical mishap again, and so far that's held true — and then some.
At this point, Barker is approaching the remaining race as the last chance to prepare for Oracle — racing against itself, and not its current competition. The Kiwis clearly have the boat to beat in the challenger series — and possibly in the America's Cup match — and the only drama left is when they'll advance.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP