Hamilton, Bermuda (AP) – The heart-stopping moments keep coming for Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup eliminations on Bermuda’s Great Sound.
The Kiwis overcame a mistake by helmsman Peter Burling and barely held off Sweden’s Artemis Racing in a drag race to the finish line of Race 6 Sunday to reach match point in the challenger finals.
Emirates Team New Zealand won two of three races Sunday to take a 4-2 lead in the best-of-nine series.
The Kiwis need just one win Monday to clinch a spot in the America’s Cup match against two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA and a chance to atone for their soul-crushing loss in the 2013 match.
Team New Zealand had a big lead late in Race 6 when Burling, an Olympic gold and silver medalist, missed the layline into the bottom mark. The 50-foot catamaran came off its foils and slowed dramatically, allowing Artemis to catch up.
The Kiwis regained their speed on the short reach to the finish, had a better angle to the line and won by one second.
“I think we definitely owe a few supporters a few beers or something like that,” Burling said. “A few guys on the team reckon they lost a few years off their life watching that. It was my stuff-up. Plain and simple, we missed the layline.
“We were planning on going through the gate and carrying on for another 18 seconds through the gate and gybing through the finish. We just missed the layline and we weren’t quite ready to gybe back and we hadn’t really accelerated out of the gybe.
“It was a simple mistake that shows you how tight this racing is,” Burling said.
“You make one little mistake and a big lead turns into nothing. We’re just really happy with the way the boys dug really deep and managed to get that board down and get foiling again to get us to the finish a couple of seconds ahead.”
On Tuesday, the Kiwis capsized at the start of a semifinal race against Britain’s Land Rover BAR, throwing threw crewmen into the water and causing extensive damage. High winds blew out racing Wednesday, and the Kiwis returned to the course Thursday to close out that series and advance.
Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge, an Australian who also has won Olympic gold and silver medals, will have to rally again to keep his syndicate alive. Artemis trailed SoftBank Team Japan 3-1 in semifinals before winning four straight to advance.
“We saw in the semifinals that anything’s possible if we just keep chipping away,” Outteridge said. “We’ll review the footage from today and probably review yesterday’s again, and come out tomorrow with a new and improved game plan.”
Artemis won Sunday’s first race after recovering from a potentially dangerous situation, when it came out of a tack, got high on its foils and then took a nose dive. The boat almost went sideways. The Kiwis had to bear away and called for a penalty but it was waved off.
Team New Zealand won the second race after passing the Swedes late on leg three and pulling way ahead. Artemis retired with a daggerboard problem just as the Kiwis crossed the finish line.
Artemis has won the start of all six races.
“We’re definitely learning a lot about how to come from behind, but at the same time we’re making some pretty big improvements in the starting end.
“We’re not too worried if we are behind because we’ve got so much confidence we can run them down. But we’d definitely prefer to be in front.”
Four years ago, Team New Zealand reached match point in the America’s Cup match at 8-1. Oracle Team USA then staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports, winning eight straight races to retain the Auld Mug. The Kiwis later sacked skipper Dean Barker.
The America’s Cup match starts Saturday.