Holders Oracle Team USA and in-form Emirates Team New Zealand underscored their strength while Britain’s Land Rover BAR shook off a dismal race to clinch a spot in the America’s Cup qualifiers semi-finals on Thursday.

A day after insufficient winds forced the cancellation of racing on Wednesday, the regatta resumed on Bermuda’s Great Sound with modest gusts of around seven knots. 

The light wind speed made for challenging conditions but Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill produced a tactical masterclass to defeat SoftBank Team Japan in the third race of the day.

A superb change of tack by Spithill’s crew saw the American boat transform a 22-second deficit into a 35-second lead between the fourth and fifth gates to set up the win.

Spithill praised tactician Tom Slingsby for helping to engineer the victory.

“The boys really kept their composure and Tommy did a great job of getting us back in the race and as you can see, it’s never over in these boats,” Spithill said.

Oracle, the 2013 champions, now head the round robin standings with seven points after six wins and one defeat.

If they finish the round robin atop the table, they’ll take a bonus point into the final stage of their title defence.

The runners-up from 2013, Emirates Team New Zealand, are second in the standings after clinching their sixth win on Thursday.

The Kiwis powered to victory over Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR after an early blunder by the British crew.

The Kiwis were neck-and-neck with Ainslie’s men heading towards the first mark before edging fractionally clear.

– British nosedive –

But a disastrous gybe from Land Rover BAR saw the boat nosedive and turn sharply to send Emirates surging clear, with a half-length lead turning into a 350-meter gap within moments.

“What happened? What happened?” a frustrated Ainslie could be heard exclaiming as Emirates pulled away.

From there Kiwi helmsman Peter Burling was always in control and the only question became whether they would manage to lap Ainslie’s boat after leading by more than six minutes through the fourth mark.

A miserable race for Ainslie ended with Land Rover BAR retiring before the finish.

Land Rover BAR recovered in the final race of the session however after a see-saw battle with Groupama Team France, skippered by Franck Cammas.

A late manoeuvre by Ainslie saw the British boat snatch victory near the finish line, to leave Land Rover BAR third in the standings with five points and sure of advancing to the next phase.

“Clearly our performance wasn’t good enough in those conditions, but tomorrow we aren’t scheduled to race so we’ll be working on our speed in those lighter conditions, the setup of the boat, the wing, the rudders and a lot you can play with to increase the performance,” Ainslie said.

It was a second defeat of the day for Groupama, who had lost by nearly six minutes to SoftBank earlier Thursday.

SoftBank are now fourth in the qualifying standings with three points, with Sweden’s Team Artemis in fifth with two points. 

Groupama have their backs against the wall with two wins from eight races. The last-place team in the round robin will be eliminated to leave the top four would-be challengers to Oracle to battle in the semi-finals. – Agence France-Presse

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