Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in key America's Cup qualifier
Hamilton (Bermuda) (AFP) - Holders Oracle Team USA defeated Emirates Team New Zealand on Saturday to win the round-robin phase of qualifying for the 35th America's Cup.
The victory means Team USA will go into the America's Cup match, which starts on June 17 on Bermuda's Great Sound, with one bonus point.
"We just won a race in the Cup," USA tactician Tom Slingsby could be heard telling the Oracle crew after they crossed the line 29 seconds in front of Team New Zealand.
Team USA won the start, forcing a penalty from Peter Burling's New Zealand to seize an early advantage.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill and his crew led by seven seconds at the first mark and by nine at the second.
New Zealand gained on the upwind leg, even briefly taking the lead, but Oracle were ahead at every mark.
"What a great effort from the team, the entire team," Spithill said. "Great training for us to get a high pressure race like that and come out on top. Two for two against the Kiwis... we have a lot of work to do, but great to see the boys pull it out under pressure."
Team New Zealand were hurt by uncharacteristic errors.
Burling piloted New Zealand across the race boundary to receive a third, which was followed by a fourth for failing to take the third in a timely fashion.
"Obviously it's a little disappointing to lose that one point," Burling said. "But at the end of the day it's about carrying on improving and carrying on learning and making sure we get back facing them again.
"We made some little errors and then learned a lot and we stayed out for a while afterwards to practice a few things that went wrong during the race and we are really happy with the few improvements we made afterwards."
Already assured of topping the table, Team USA closed out round-robin action with a victory over Britain's Land Rover BAR to take their total to nine points.
New Zealand, with eight points, are the top seeds in the qualifying semi-finals ahead of Britain, Artemis Racing of Sweden and SoftBank Team Japan.
That gave New Zealand the chance to choose their next opponent, and they opted to take on Britain in the semi-finals that start Sunday, when Sweden will square off against Japan.
Oracle, meanwhile, will head to the sidelines as the four remaining would-be challengers battle it out for the right to race for the Cup.
Despite the defeat to Oracle, it was an encouraging day for Ben Ainslie's British outfit, who beat Japan in their other race of the day.
Sweden won comfortably over Groupama Team France, who had already been eliminated from contention on Friday.