Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

America's Cup: Kiwi crew unbreakable as Spithill piles on the pressure

Team NZ head for the finish.  Photo / AP
Team NZ head for the finish. Photo / AP

It was yet another stern test of Team New Zealand's mettle.

The pressure on the Kiwi crew throughout the America's Cup match has been relentless, but heading into yesterday's 10th race the stakes were impossibly high.

In the context of the series, the race was pivotal.

Oracle had won two races on the trot and were looking blisteringly quick in the heavier air. Had Team NZ suffered another loss, it could have been a game-changer. The last thing Team NZ would have wanted was for Jimmy Spithill's crew of self-appointed underdogs to head into today's lay day with their tails up.

It's been said this team would remain cool even in a blast furnace and you'd certainly have to agree with that assessment after yesterday's performance.

Dean Barker clung on for dear life on the first reach to lead round mark one, and in that tense upwind beat their execution was rock solid.

There was an overwhelming sense of relief from Kiwi fans when Team NZ crossed the finish line 14 seconds ahead of Oracle in race 10, but trimmer Glenn Ashby said from the crew on-board there was no sense that the victory was more crucial than any of the others.

"It's a long regatta, it's an endurance event. Each race is different and the game can change quickly. So we just look at each race as its own entity and don't get sucked in to looking at the big picture," said Ashby.

The old "one race at a time" approach might sound boring, but it seems to be working for Team NZ.

The temperament of the Kiwi crew has remained remarkably even-handed throughout the regatta.

While the nation sucked in its breath on Sunday as NZL05 teetered dangerously on its side, coming within half a degree of toppling over, the grinders kept going about their work desperately winding the handles to build up enough hydraulic pressure to allow the wing to "pop" and the boat to right itself. The dramatic incident handed Oracle their second win of the series, but Team NZ bounced straight back to take the startline for the next race of the day.

They didn't appear to hold back any in the second race either, building a healthy lead before the race was terminated due to strong winds.

Back on shore Barker was fairly relaxed about the whole affair. Yes, they came very close to losing a lot more than a race, he said, but that's the nature of the on-the-edge racing machines.

It was much the same reaction from the crew when they stuffed their bows in the opening race of the Louis Vuitton final series against Luna Rossa.

Team NZ's America's Cup challenge could have been over before it even began after they came dangerously close to pitch-poling. But again there was no sense of panic from the New Zealand team.

They're happy to leave the worrying to us while they get on with the job.

Race 10 - how it played out

*Dean Barker looked in trouble in the pre-start when he appeared to struggle to get back around the leeward mark from below the layline. But he did a good job of holding position on Jimmy Spithill, who was storming along to windward.
*After an even start off the line, Team NZ just managed to hang on to the overlap as they entered the mark zone after a slight touchdown of the hull proved costly for Oracle, who were forced to give way to the Kiwi boat on the inside channel.
*That gave Team NZ a four-second lead as they headed downwind for the first time.
*At the bottom mark Oracle split to the right-hand gate with the Kiwis going to the left.
*Soon after, Oracle tacked at the boundary and headed back towards Team NZ coming across on port tack.
*A series of gains each time the two boats crossed eventually saw Oracle pull ahead after picking up an advantage on the right-hand side of the course.
*The next cross saw Team NZ regain the lead as Oracle ducked them on port.
*The final cross just before the top mark saw Oracle with starboard advantage rounding the left-hand mark and Team NZ, who had slowed on port to go behind them, rounding a second later at the right mark.
*The race was decided midway through the final downwind leg when the two boats converged on opposite gybes. Oracle, on port, opted to slow down and cross behind but it was an ill-judged manoeuvre from Spithill, with his team going too deep.
*From there, Team NZ held their nerve, sailing an error-free final run to close out the win.

- NZ Herald

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