(Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand take on champions Oracle Team USA in a crucial head-to-head on Saturday, after they became the first to complete an America’s Cup race without their hulls touching the water.
New Zealand set the 100 percent “fly time” record, which they describe as a “dry lap”, in their 50-foot (15 metre) foiling catamaran as they knocked out Groupama Team France.
“It (a dry lap) should just be a given at this level ... Later on in the event I think you will see everyone doing that in every race,” Emirates Team New Zealand’s helmsman Peter Burling told a news briefing following Friday’s racing.
The new breed of America’s Cup craft lift out of the water on hydrofoils, so far “flying” at speeds of more than 40 knots.
With eight wins out of nine, New Zealand now need to beat Oracle Team USA to claim a bonus point which will give them an immediate advantage in the America’s Cup final if they become the official challenger for international sport’s oldest trophy.
New Zealand are seeking to avenge their 2013 defeat by Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA in San Francisco.
The U.S. team have all to play for as they would win the bonus point if they beat New Zealand and then defeat Britain’s Land Rover BAR in the last race of the qualifiers on Saturday.
“Really excited. The race against the Kiwis is going to be the decider for us in the bonus point ... It’s all about the Kiwi race,” Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill told the briefing.
Winds on Bermuda’s Great Sound are forecast to be between 10 and 15 knots at the time of racing at just after 1700 GMT, ideal conditions for the high-tech foiling catamarans.
The New Zealand team will be banking on their revolutionary “cycling” sailors to provide the muscle power needed to drive the hydraulic systems which control the foils and the towering “wing” sail which drives the boat.
So far the New Zealand boat has looked the most stable of the six catamarans and Burling, the youngest helmsman of the event, most relaxed behind his mask of sun cream and sunglasses.
“We’ve been learning a lot and improving a lot and feeling like we have got a lot left,” Burling said.
Reporting by Alexander Smith in London; Editing by Pritha Sarkar