WELLINGTON Team New Zealand's hopes of securing the America's Cup took a massive step forward on Sunday with their ninth successive victory in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series and decision to proceed straight to the finals.
Dean Barker's crew clinched the round-robin series last week, but decided after they beat Italy's Luna Rossa on Sunday they would skip the semi-finals to fine tune their preparations for the finals series beginning on August 17.
"We thought hard about doing the semi-finals to get more racing and more starting, to get more race time under our belts," Barker told the regatta website after they beat the Italians by three minutes, 21 seconds.
"But we also have a fairly large amount of work to do to our boat, a lot of changes and modifications intended to improve the performance.
"That takes time, so we will take the next period to make changes and we look forward to lining up against whoever we will race in the Louis Vuitton Cup final."
Barker added his team would not start their final round robin race on Tuesday against Swedish challenger Artemis, who have yet to line up at all after they were forced to rebuild their second boat following a fatal training accident in May.
Artemis only launched their massive AC72 catamaran last week and had already indicated they would prefer to spend their time testing it and not line up to race until the Louis Vuitton semi-finals against Luna Rossa begins on August 6.
"In terms of racing before the semis, that might be one step too far," Artemis skipper Iain Percy said.
"You never say never, but one thing that's important to us is to keep our focus on safety. We suffered a horrendous accident and we need to take baby steps and progress at our own speed.
"It's fantastic being on the racecourse practicing, just getting out there and seeing the boats and having a look at the start sequences is all good practice, but we don't want to run before we can walk."
The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup will take on holders Oracle for the America's Cup beginning on September 7.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)