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(Reuters) - Fading French hopes of challenging for the America's Cup were finally dashed on Friday when Groupama Team France lost to a dominant New Zealand crew who moved ahead of defending champions Oracle Team USA in Bermuda.
Groupama Team France, who as late challengers for the America's Cup were always regarded as the underdogs, lost by a huge margin to Emirates Team New Zealand.
Even if the French crew skippered by Franck Cammas beat Sweden's Artemis Racing on Saturday, an inferior track record in the pre-event series means they cannot overcome the other teams who are also seeking to challenge Oracle Team USA.
Victory for Emirates Team New Zealand, their second during Friday's racing, put them ahead of the U.S. defending champions in the qualifying races. As holders, Oracle Team USA will be in the final, regardless of how well they perform.
The French loss and another win for Artemis Racing in the last race of the day against SoftBank Team Japan means that Emirates Team New Zealand, Britain's Land Rover BAR and the Swedish and Japanese crews will advance to the semi-finals.
Winds for the Louis Vuitton America's Cup qualifying races picked up in Bermuda's Great Sound from the gentle breezes which dominated the head-to-head racing on Thursday, allowing the 50-foot foiling catamarans to fly around the course.
The New Zealand and Swedish crews dominated their races from start to finish, making few mistakes and giving their opponents little chance to pass, while the French boat once again looked wobbly on its foils at times, losing them crucial seconds.
"We are sailing a much better race now, we had two really good starts," Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge said in a televised interview following his crew's victories over Oracle Team USA and SoftBank Team Japan.
Emirates Team New Zealand are battling with Oracle Team USA to top the qualifying round robin event. Should they do so they would gain a bonus point for the America's Cup match against the holders if they go the whole way through the competition.
The crews reached speeds of more than 40 knots as they screeched around the natural race course of Bermuda's Great Sound, with the New Zealand team's revolutionary "cyclors" - sailors sitting on fixed cycling pedestals - providing the power needed to drive the boat's hydraulics.
The six teams are racing each other twice in the head-to-head match race format, with a point for the winners.
Reporting by Alexander Smith in London,; Editing by Ed Osmond