SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — Emirates Team New Zealand routed Italy’s Luna Rossa by the biggest margin yet on Tuesday in the America’s Cup challenger trials and clinched the right to advance to the Louis Vuitton Cup finals.
The Kiwis finished 7 minutes, 14 seconds ahead of the Italians, who officially were ruled did not finish because they weren’t within 5 minutes of the winners.
Team New Zealand took an unassailable 7-3 lead over Luna Rossa, which fell farther behind at each turning mark on the seven-leg course on San Francisco Bay.
In winning the round robins with five races still to go, Team New Zealand has earned the right to advance straight to the Louis Vuitton Cup finals or choose its opponent for the semifinal round.
The team hasn’t announced its intention other than to say it plans to sail its next scheduled races on Saturday and Sunday.
Most observers think the Kiwis will chose to advance to the Louis Vuitton Cup finals.
The Louis Vuitton Cup winner will advance to face defending champion Oracle Team USA in the 34th America’s Cup match starting Sept. 7.
“In general, today there were no glaring mistakes, but we know we can keep doing better,” Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said. “We go out there to race as hard as we can every time. It’s not a case of getting in front and cruising. The level we’re trying to achieve is still well above where we are now. There are a lot of improvements we can do to the boat with systems and management.”
If Team New Zealand advances straight to the finals, that would leave Luna Rossa to contest the semifinals with Sweden’s Artemis Racing, which hasn’t raced yet as it prepares its second boat. Artemis Racing launched its new boat Monday, 2 ½ months after British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson was killed in a capsize that destroyed the syndicate’s first boat.
On days when Artemis Racing is scheduled to race, its opponent must complete the course to collect the point.
Team New Zealand has beaten Luna Rossa three straight times and took another victory when the Italians boycotted the opening race on July 7.
New Zealand beat Italy by 5:23 on July 13, although Luna Rossa was ruled DNF. Luna Rossa sailed a closer race on Sunday, losing by 2:19.
On Tuesday, the Italians were beaten in the pre-start maneuver and were badly off the pace.
Grinder Giles Scott said the crew was disappointed.
“We’ve got an awful lot to work on,” Scott said. “Although the delta still seems substantial, we’re moving forward and things are getting better. But clearly we’ve got a lot to do to get to where we need to be. We can’t hide from the fact that, at the moment, the Kiwis are the class act.”
When the Italians launched their 72-foot catamaran in low tide, the port rudder hit bottom. It had to be removed and repaired before the team left the dock.
“We dropped the rudder out, brought it to shore and the boatbuilders tickled it up,” Scott said. “Then the divers stuck it back in before we left the dock. It’s never ideal, but what it harmed was our preparation time. The boat was 100 percent at start time.”
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