SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle Team USA made a huge tactical error Tuesday and gave up the lead after two legs to allow Emirates Team New Zealand to blow past upwind and finish more than a minute ahead in Race 5 of the America's Cup final match.
The Americans, already in the hole after three days of racing, had called Tuesday a "must-win day" for the team. Oracle decided to delay Race 6 by using its "postponement card," halting racing for the day.
The official score is 4-0, even though Oracle won a race Sunday. Because of a two-point penalty before the regatta began, Oracle remains at minus-one. New Zealand must win nine races to take back the America's Cup and move it to Auckland. Oracle must win 11.
Members of both teams had said earlier Tuesday that the team that makes the fewest mistakes would win, and Oracle made a doozy when it rounded the leeward mark, nearly coming to a stop as it roll-tacked away toward Alcatraz. The Kiwis sped off toward the shore, with less current, and opened up a wide gap of more than 300 meters. By the third mark, the Kiwis were ahead by more than 200 meters and 1 minute, 17 seconds.
"This is a shocking turn of events," commentator Tucker Thompson said. "It's really surprising that the brain trust of Oracle would have put themselves in the position they put themselves in."
Oracle started strongly and was the first to round the reaching mark, four seconds ahead of New Zealand. Oracle, generally faster downwind, stayed ahead at the leeward mark, leading the Kiwis by eight seconds. But Oracle's tacking maneuver doomed the team on the third leg heading upwind. Not only was its roll tack around the mark slow, allowing the Kiwis to zoom past, but the team headed into heavier current.
"It wasn't the greatest tack," said a stone-faced Jimmy Spithill, skipper of Oracle Team USA. He also said his team used a bigger jib than New Zealand and might change it for the second race.
New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said the team had some serious catching up to do after the start, but took its chance on the third leg.
"It's a tough way to win races," Barker said, "but it's working for us."
34TH AMERICA'S CUP
Emirates Team New Zealand 4 points, Oracle Team USA 0 points (-1)
Best-of-17 series or first team to 9 points
Thursday: Races 6 and 7, 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET
Saturday: Races 8 and 9, 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET
Sunday: Races 10 and 11*, 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET
Sept. 17: Races 12* and 13*, 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET
Sept. 19: Races 14* and 15*, 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET
Sept. 21: Race 16* and 17*, 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET
* -- if necessary
NOTE: Because of penalties, Oracle Team USA began the America's Cup with minus-2 points, meaning it would need to win 11 races to retain the America's Cup. New Zealand needs to win nine. If necessary, Races 18 and 19 will be added to the schedule.