Emirates Team New Zealand reached match point in the 35th America’s Cup after back-to-back wins against Oracle Team USA.
The Kiwis moved to 6-1 in the first-to-seven series and look immune to the kind of heartbreaking collapse that denied them winning the “Auld Mug” four years ago.
One victory from the maximum three scheduled races today would make Peter Burling the youngest helmsman to hoist the oldest trophy in international sport.
The 26-year-old once again dominated Jimmy Spithill and gave the Oracle skipper a cheeky wave as the Kiwis flew past the defenders at the beginning of race eight.
The starting box was cause for concern for the Kiwis during the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers round robin and Challenger Play-offs, with many expecting Burling to be eaten alive by the more experienced Spithill.
It has been quite the opposite, however, with Spithill winning only one pre-start and allowing Burling to put clear air between the two boats on both occasions yesterday.
Spithill, who joined Sir Russell Coutts on 14 for the most wins in the finals, admits he may now hand over the helm to tactician Tom Slingsby.
“I’ll do whatever is good for the team,” the two-times America’s Cup winner from Australia said.
“If we think the team’s got a better chance with me on the wheel, clearly I’ll go on the wheel. If we think the team’s got a better chance with me off the wheel, no problem.
“Our attitude’s always been from Day 1 that you put the team before yourself. The team we roll out tomorrow that will be the team we think will give ourselves the best chance of winning.”
Oracle seemed to have found significant boat speed on Saturday, when they won their first race of the America’s Cup Match, presented by Louis Vuitton, after making several technical changes, including the removal of their lone pedal-grinding mechanism.
Any hopes of gaining further ground on the challengers were quashed yesterday, however, with Team New Zealand now on the brink of claiming the title for the first time since 2000.
“Despite the lead, we won’t get ahead of ourselves because we still know we have a job to do and it’s still an incredibly tough ask,” Burling said.
“A lot has been said about what happened four years ago, but I love the pressure.
“If you want to come all the way to Bermuda and win the America’s Cup, then you have to deal with immense pressure.
“As a group we feel the pressure is bringing the best out of us and we’ve more than answered those questions.”
The Kiwis were simply better than Oracle in every facet of racing.
An unnecessary tack in the pre-start of race seven gave Team New Zealand an early advantage and all but ended Oracle’s chances of a second victory.
“Those guys just got off the line better than us,” said Spithill, sporting a wrist bandage for the second successive day after an injury in practice. “We did one little turn up that we didn’t need to do there.”
The Kiwis also won the crucial start in the eighth race to open a 13-second lead before Spithill had even crossed the line.
“We just couldn’t get the hook-up after we turned up there at the start and unfortunately allowed them the hook. From then on, it was very, very difficult to catch up once they got their nose free,” Spithill added.
“It was clearly an error. We thought we would have been able to hook-up and get going and be OK.”
Oracle hardly helped themselves by making numerous unforced errors and picking up a penalty on leg four by sailing outside the boundary to compound their woes on a miserable and damaging day.
In stark contrast, Burling and his crew sailed a near-perfect race, emphasising their superiority by keeping their catamaran on the foils all the way around the course.