ORACLE TEAM USA founder Larry Ellison jumped aboard his sleek and swift AC72 moments after the crew had crossed the finish line of Race 19 of the 34th America’s Cup, a winner-take-all race.
“I wanted to let them know they’d just won the America’s Cup,” said Ellison. “And that’s what I told them; that’s what I said.”
The victory brought to a close the America’s Cup in San Francisco. The event ended on a high note with the captivating match between ORACLE TEAM USA and Emirates Team New Zealand, one that took 19 races in 19 days to complete.
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Emirates Team New Zealand jumped out to an 8-1 lead and needed just one win to wrest the Cup back down under, but couldn’t complete the mission. Instead, the Kiwis were foiled for eight consecutive races, made to sit and watch ORACLE TEAM USA slowly and steadily claw back and win eight consecutive races.
“Today, the world witnessed the greatest comeback in America’s Cup history by Cup Defender ORACLE TEAM USA. I thank and congratulate the crew on a well-deserved victory and thank ORACLE TEAM USA for bringing the America’s Cup to San Francisco,” said Mayor Ed Lee at the award ceremony. “I also congratulate and thank the 34th America’s Cup challenger Emirates Team New Zealand for the amazing racing on our Bay, and it was a pleasure to host your many fans in our City.”
ORACLE TEAM USA’s victory caps an amazing America’s Cup season, one that evolved from the “Summer of Racing” into the “Fall Fisticuffs.” This Cup represented one of the most ambitious undertakings to change the nature of the game, and sitting on the dais this afternoon Ellison seemed pleased by the outcome.
“This was the most magnificent spectacle on the water,” Ellison said. “These 40-plus knot catamarans are amazing. By going to catamarans we tried to make sailing a bit more extreme, friendlier for the viewing audience. A lot of people weren’t interested in sailing, and now they are.
“This regatta has changed sailing forever. More people watched the first race of this America’s Cup than all of the America’s Cups in history, so I think it’s a success,” Ellison said.
The legacy of the America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay is fast boats racing close to shore and taxing the crews to extremes. The sailors’ heart rates were regularly maxed out, and not solely because of the exhilaration afforded by the AC72 wing sail catamaran. They were maxed out because of the physicality required to power the AC72, grinding for 25 to 30 minutes straight to power the hydraulics, to raise and lower the daggerboards, to trim the wing sail and headsails.
Beyond the on-water changes were the changes to the television broadcast, the implementation of AC LiveLine, the on-picture graphics package that illustrates who’s ahead and who’s behind, and gave viewers information they never would’ve otherwise understood. A goal was to inspire a new generation of sailors, and Ellison believes the mission was accomplished.
“I think about this regatta and what it means to sailing,” said Ellison. “I think it was absolutely spectacular. If a bunch of kids are inspired to go sail, I’m a happy guy.”
The spectacle on the water wouldn’t have been possible without Emirates Team New Zealand. Today’s loss clearly stung skipper Dean Barker and managing director Grant Dalton. The two – and everyone associated with the team – poured heart and soul into this effort. Sitting on match point for a week, they needed just one win to spirit the Cup away back down under. It was one win they couldn’t come up with.
“They are champion sailors, competitors. They came here to bring the Cup back to New Zealand and boy did they come close. Hats off to them,” said Ellison.
For the Kiwis the loss is particularly tough. They lost the 2007 America’s Cup after leading 2-1, and they lost the 2003 Cup in a rout. This was supposed to be the effort that brought the trophy home. The loss wasn’t for lack of effort. They simply were matched against a faster boat. The faster boat always wins the America’s Cup.
“We weren’t expecting 9-8, that’s for sure,” said Dalton, the gruff impresario who looked to have a lump in his throat. “We’ve always said the fastest boat would ultimately win through, particularly with the technology race in play here, and that’s what happened.”
In the end, it was the upwind speed advantage of ORACLE TEAM USA that made the difference. Through the course of the regatta the defender found a way to improve its speed upwind by 90 seconds, according to Dalton. In the final two races the Kiwis led at the first mark and the leeward gate. At the beginning of the match they converted those leads into wins. But the defender’s AC72 looked particularly impressive when foiling upwind, and that was the difference in the end.
“Yesterday was the first time that we felt we had a bit on,” said Barker, who now has an 11-21 record in races for the America’s Cup. “Yesterday in Race 2 we led around the bottom gate and watched Oracle pretty much sail around us and into the distance on the upwind, which had been our strength. Today we went in with the attitude to win the start, lead at the first mark and leeward gate and see what we can do. Today, again, we saw how dominant they’d become upwind.
“It’s very difficult to accept, a tough pill to swallow,” Barker said. “I’m incredibly proud of Team New Zealand and what the guys have achieved.”
The future of the America’s Cup is still unknown. Ellison said that his team had received the “hip pocket challenge” that is the first step towards the next event. Beyond that, Ellison said an announcement would be made in the near future as to the boat and venue and timing.
“We did get a challenge, we have a challenger of record,” said Ellison. “We will be disclosing in the future. We’re all going to sit down and talk about what kind of boats we use going forward.”
If the future’s anything like the present, the 35th America’s Cup could be even more spectacular.