SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Skipper Jimmy Spithill and defending champion Oracle Team USA remained alive in the America's Cup by running their astonishing winning streak to six after forcing Emirates Team New Zealand into two penalties during the wild start of Race 17 on Tuesday.
If Oracle hadn't been docked two points for illegally modifying boats in warmup regattas, its sailors would be hoisting the oldest trophy in international sports.
But the harshest penalty in the regatta's 162-year history means Spithill and crew must win two more races to keep the Auld Mug in San Francisco.
Team New Zealand, marooned on match point since Wednesday, leads 8-7.
Race 18 of the longest America's Cup ever was scheduled for later Tuesday.
Spithill appeared in trouble just before the start but hooked behind rival Dean Barker into favored leeward position, as the boats jockeyed just inside the Golden Gate Bridge. The 72-foot catamarans touched, and Oracle tactician Ben Ainslie yelled at the Kiwis to tack away. They collided again, this time harder, with Ainslie gesturing angrily.
Team New Zealand sat dead in the water to clear the penalties as Oracle pulled away. The American-backed boat — with only one American on the crew of 11 — stayed ahead the whole way around the five-leg course and won by 27 seconds before doing a flyby of fans at the end of Pier 27-29.
Having come back from what appeared to be certain defeat a week ago, Oracle Team USA became the first team to win six straight races in an America's Cup match. There have been three five-race winning streaks when the Cup was best-of-9. This regatta started as best-of-17, but Oracle will need to win 11 races to keep the Cup.
Oracle has twice trailed by seven points, most recently when Team New Zealand won Race 11 on Wednesday for an 8-1 lead.
After Oracle won Race 12, Team New Zealand was denied the chance to seize the Cup when Race 13 was abandoned because of a 40-minute time limit with the Kiwis well ahead in light wind. When the race was resailed in better breeze, Oracle won to begin its winning streak.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, won for the eighth time in 10 races overall and for the eighth time in 12 races since Ainslie, a British Olympic star, replaced American John Kostecki as tactician.