SAN FRANCISCO -- After two more devastating losses Thursday, Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill conceded that Emirates Team New Zealand has "almost got it in the bag," but he's motivated to make a valiant comeback and retain the America's Cup trophy.
"Imagine if these guys lost from here, what an upset that would be," Spithill told reporters after Races 6 and 7 on Thursday. "That would be one hell of a story, one hell of a comeback, and that's what I'd like to be a part of."
After winning six races to Oracle's one, the Kiwis need to win only three more to take back the trophy. Races 8 and 9 are scheduled for Saturday. If billionaire Larry's Ellison's Oracle Team USA, which won the trophy in 2010, loses both races, the world-renowned regatta could end Sunday.
New Zealand improved its on-the-water record to 6-1 over Oracle Team USA but officially leads on points 6-0. Oracle is at minus-1 after a two-point penalty was assessed before the America's Cup. Overall, the Kiwis need nine victories to win the America's Cup. The Americans need 11.
Spithill tried to shake things up for Thursday's races, replacing tactician John Kostecki, who grew up sailing on the San Francisco Bay, with British Olympian Ben Ainslie, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II last year after winning his fourth gold medal.
And while there seemed to be no complaints about tactics Thursday, Oracle's slower boat speed upwind and inferior tacking abilities kept it behind.
With the exception of Oracle's win in Race 4 last Sunday, the American team has been bedeviled in each race by the upwind leg, where the Kiwis have either passed or widened their lead. New Zealand skipper Dean Barker seemed to drive home that point during Thursday's first race, bearing down like a bull on Oracle on that leg. As the boats were about to cross each other, Barker, with the right of way, steered straight to the bow of Oracle, forcing the Americans to duck and lose time and distance. The Americans never caught up after that.
Going into the 34th America's Cup, the Americans weren't expecting New Zealand to have such better speed and control upwind.
"I think it is a shock that they have got the edge upwind," Spithill said.
The team plans to modify its 72-foot catamaran Friday to help improve its upwind abilities this weekend, he said. "We've still got to look at what we can do," Spithill said. "It's a long way from over in my mind."
Although the Americans had strong starts in most of their races, including winning the start in Race 6, the Kiwis were first over the starting line in Race 7 and increased their lead throughout the race.
The Kiwis won Race 6 by 47 seconds and by 1 minute, 6 seconds in Race 7.
In Race 6, Oracle crossed the starting line a full boat length ahead and lengthened its lead at the first mark, rounding nine seconds ahead. Also, as they have in previous races, the Americans led at Mark 2, this time by 12 seconds.
But it was Leg 3, the upwind leg, that changed fortunes for the Americans.
New Zealand split off toward Alcatraz, where there was less current, and while Oracle Team USA was able to stay ahead at a couple of crossing points, New Zealand eventually crossed ahead with Barker's aggressive head-on move.
Again and again, the Kiwis forced Oracle to tack -- a basic sailing maneuver the Americans have yet to master. By the third mark, the Kiwis were ahead by 200 meters and 42 seconds and never looked back.
With every loss, the fate of Oracle Team USA looks more grim. But Spithill said he and his team are undaunted.
"We're going to fight the whole way," Spithill said. "We're going to go to every single race thinking we can win."
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.
Emirates Team New Zealand 6 points,
Oracle Team USA 0 points (-1)
Best-of-17 series or first team to 9 points
Saturday: Races 8 and 9, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network and COZI-TV
NOTE: Because of penalties, Oracle Team USA began the America's Cup with minus-2 points, meaning it needs to win 11 races to retain the America's Cup. New Zealand needs to win nine.
Inside: Complete schedule on PAGE 5.