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Advantage Oracle as Team France stun Artemis

Two-time defending champions Oracle Team USA will not go undefeated in this America's Cup regatta and Groupama Team France will not go winless.

On an afternoon of light, shifty winds on the turquoise waters of the Great Sound, Oracle won two of three races to take a two-point lead in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers. Team France opened yesterday's racing with a stunning upset of Artemis Racing, of Sweden.

Britain's Land Rover BAR got their foiling 50ft catamaran patched up overnight after a frightening collision with SoftBank Team Japan on Saturday. But skipper Ben Ainslie and crew gave up the lead in their two races and were beaten handily by Oracle and Emirates Team New Zealand. That is not a good sign for a country that has tried for 166 years to win back the silver trophy it lost to the schooner America in 1851.

Oracle, skippered by Australia Jimmy Spithill, beat BAR by 39 seconds, lost to Artemis by 39 seconds, and routed stablemates Team Japan by 54 seconds.

This is the first time the defender has sailed against challengers in the preliminaries. If Oracle win the qualifiers, they will carry a one-point bonus into the first-of-seven America's Cup match beginning June 17.

“Today was all about keeping your head up out of the boat and looking for those opportunities,” Oracle tactician Tom Slingsby said. “It was a challenging day, but we had a couple of legs where we were able to thread the needle and make some good gains.”

Oracle have five points, followed by Team Zealand and BAR with three apiece. BAR entered with two bonus points from preliminary regattas, while Oracle entered with one bonus point. Artemis have two points and Team Japan and France one apiece.

Oracle is finished with the first round robin, which continues with three races today. The second round robin starts tomorrow, after which one challenger will be eliminated. Oracle will then train on their own while the challengers sail their semi-finals and finals.

Beating Artemis by three seconds “was really good for the team,” Team France skipper Franck Cammas said. “They worked two years for that. It's good for the mind, it's good for the maturation for the next days.”

With the weekend crowded due to Friday's schedule being blown out by too much wind, Oracle were the only team to sail three races yesterday. They swapped out two of the workhorse grinders per race. Due to the way the rotation works, Australian Ky Hurst sailed the last two races.

“We're just doing what we're born to do — give power to the people,” Hurst joked. “We all have a role to play to make this boat go well. From a production point of view I think we did really well today.

“We've been training for this for a couple of years, so our fitness is at the point where we can deliver on a day like today.”

Oracle recovered from a bad start against Land Rover BAR and passed the Brits about halfway through the race. The American lead grew as Land Rover BAR came off its foils and buried its bows in the water just after the weather mark, a recurring problem.

Artemis skipper Nathan Outteridge, also an Aussie, got the best of Spithill at the start of their race. Oracle got close, but Artemis played the shifts for a big win.

Oracle had no trouble against Team Japan, who are led by Dean Barker, the former skipper of Team New Zealand. The two syndicates shared a design package, but Team Japan, a start-up syndicate, are clearly behind on the sailing front.

Spithill was not surprised with the big difference between Oracle and Japan.

“When you look at the conditions, it's no surprise at all that either team could have been a long way ahead,” he said. “No disrespect to Franck, but I think Artemis is a team that the bookies would have had odds-on to win that race, and Franck and the guys just sailed better. It clearly shows that today was about sailing well and trying to avoid some of the tough spots out there.”

Ainslie said the shore team “did an amazing job” of patching a hole in the port hull left by Saturday's collision. “It's just a shame we couldn't repay that work with some wins today,” he said.

Barker said his boat still needs some work after Saturday's crash.

“The shore crew are looking forward to when Ben's going to bring some beers down,” Barker said. “It didn't happen last night, so I'm guessing' he'll probably do it tonight.”

Emirates Team New Zealand beat Japan by 33 seconds and Britain by 1:28.

French lesson: after a disastrous Saturday, Team France got their tactics spot on in yesterday's racing to upset Artemis (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published May 29, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 29, 2017 at 2:24 am)

Advantage Oracle as Team France stun Artemis

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