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Spithill steers Oracle to big Race 9 win

September 15, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Skipper Jimmy Spithill steered defending champion Oracle Team USA to an impressive wire-to-wire victory in Race 9 of the America’s Cup on Sunday, finishing 47 seconds ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand.

It was the first time the struggling defenders won consecutive races and could signal a shift in momentum after the American-based syndicate changed its boat and vastly improved its previously woeful performance while sailing upwind on San Francisco Bay.

Oracle won decisively even after hitting something with its port rudder before the race. The shore crew repaired the top rudder bearing before the start and was making more repairs before Race 10, which was scheduled for later in the afternoon.

Oracle Team USA, owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison, finally reached a positive position on the scoreboard and trails the Kiwis 6-1. Oracle entered the series with a two-point penalty for the biggest cheating scandal in the Cup’s 162-year history, so it needs eight more victories to keep the oldest trophy in international sports.

Team New Zealand, which almost capsized during a 52-second loss on Saturday, needs three more wins to claim the Auld Mug for the second time in 18 years.

Oracle is 2-2 since British Olympic star Ben Ainslie replaced John Kostecki as tactician.

The Americans had been getting stomped by the Kiwis sailing the only upwind leg on the course, but that’s changed since it made changes to its wing sail and jib setup to have the boat better balanced.

At one point on the windward leg, as the boats zigzagged toward the Golden Gate Bridge, Ainslie was heard to say, “Lovely tack.”

Spithill pinned rival Dean Barker in the starting box and then had his 72-foot catamaran sprinting across the line ahead. Oracle led by 4 seconds around the reaching first mark and increased the lead at each of the next marks on the five-leg course. Oracle gained 15 seconds sailing the upwind third leg and led by 33 seconds rounding the gate mark.

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