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Rivalry heats up ahead of 2011-12 AC World Series climax

27June2012_Americas_CupPhoto by Martin-Raget

27-June-2012. With over 100 local junior sailors in the audience, ORACLE TEAM USA’s Jimmy Spithill and Emirates Team New Zealand’s Dean Barker both declared their intention to leave Newport with the inaugural AC World Series trophy in hand. And while Terry Hutchinson’s Artemis Racing still has a mathematical chance of playing the spoiler, most are looking at this as a two horse race for the title between Spithill and Barker.

Spithill’s ORACLE TEAM USA is in pole position with a narrow four-point advantage entering the regatta. But with 10 points available to the winner of each discipline here – match racing and fleet racing – that lead can disappear quickly.

This is why we’re in the World Series, to be in regatta pressure and put ourselves on the line,” said Spithill. “I’d rather go in to the final event four points clear than the other way, but it’s extremely close. The best thing is it will be decided on the water, and it will be decided on Sunday.”

“Absolutely,” Barker answered when asked if winning was the goal for his team. “We still think we have a very good chance. We need to put together a good result in the Match Racing Championship which will set up the opportunity to take the overall title. Then it comes down to how well we fleet race. I think we have as good a chance as anyone.”

Artemis Racing could easily have made this a three-team fight for the overall title, were it not for the fleet racing. The Swedish challenger leads the match race standings for the season, but sits in fourth place in fleet racing, something skipper Terry Hutchinson attributes to inconsistent starts: “It really doesn’t come down to anything but I haven’t started the boat well throughout the series,” explained Hutchinson. “It’s been a bit of an Achilles’ heel for us and it’s on me to make it better.”

Championship Racing in the AC World Series Newport is from June 28 to July 1 with the grand finale on Sunday to be broadcast live on NBC across the United States beginning at 1430 EDT. All four days of racing can be seen worldwide on www.youtube.com/americascup (subject to territorial broadcast agreements).

The teams have two days of official practice racing on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon before racing starts on June 28 at 1200 EDT. The full regatta schedule and format is here.

During Tuesday’s practice session, Emirates Team New Zealand had a collision with one of the mark boats in gusty conditions late in the afternoon. The initial assessment is that both boats suffered minor damage, with nothing serious enough to keep the Kiwis from racing on Thursday.

Quotes from the Newport ‘Meet the Skippers’ event:

Jimmy Spithill, ORACLE TEAM USA Spithill: I was just speaking with Dean (Barker) before coming on stage and he was saying how confident he was, that he’s got this one in the bag, and he’s cleaned out some room in his trophy cabinet (laughing). But we’re going to make him work for it!

Dean Barker, Emirates Team New Zealand: Jimmy (Spithill) is going in as hot favorite, but we have a fantastic opportunity in front of us. It’s going to be a great event. We’ve been here for a few days and the sailing here is fantastic. It’s not getting any easier, that’s for sure – all eight teams are capable of winning races.

Terry Hutchinson, Artemis Racing: I think the great state of Rhode Island is going to deliver really, really good conditions for us. When you look at the forecasts we should have some really good sea breeze days. This race course is not that tricky that random things will happen. I think everyone will get a handle on it and if we get some solid sea breezes, we’ll have a lot of action.

Loïck Peyron, Energy Team: Any time you have the chance to sail on these boats you will improve and any time you can fight against the best, as we do here, it’s even better. But I’ve never tried to specialize in what type of boat I sail.

Nathan Outteridge, Team Korea: The 49er class is quite fast and the racing happens very quickly on short courses, so for me to step onto the AC45, while it’s obviously a big step, to be honest we have a great team that makes my life pretty easy at the moment.

Russell Coutts, ORACLE TEAM USA Coutts (on whether he is out of practice): All of these guys sitting up here should just stay out of our way this week (laughing).

Chris Draper, Luna Rossa Piranha: We’ve had some great sailing. It was so nice on day one of training here to trim on and let the boat rip. We’re looking forward to racing in these waters; we have tide, windshifts, everything we like about the sport. The city has given us a really warm welcome.

Max Sirena, Luna Rossa Swordfish: We’re still in the learning process as a team. But we’re pretty happy with our results so far. We’re looking forward this week to see if we can improve on what we did in Venice. But these guys have been sailing for more than one year and we’re trying to close the gap in time for San Francisco next year.