Oracle's Jimmy Spithill wins fleet finale
SAN DIEGO -- Minutes after winning the fleet racing championship in the third stop on the America's Cup World Series on San Diego Bay, Oracle Racing skipper Jimmy Spithill was handed a bottle of champagne from a chase boat and began spraying his crew.
First on the hit list was Larry Ellison, the Silicon Valley maverick who heads Oracle Corp. and bankrolls the team that brought the America's Cup back to America last year. After soaking his boss, Spithill worked over the four other men on the fast 45-foot catamaran with a wing sail.
"It feels good, actually. I've had a couple of go's at it now," said Spithill, who also got to douse Ellison after winning the match racing championship Saturday. "But he got me back on the stage yesterday, so I thought on board today after we got the victory, "I'm going to really get him back." So I'm one up on him. I've got him two saturations to one.
"It's not often you can say you're 2-1 up on a billionaire."
Spithill, an Australian who lives part-time in San Diego, became the first skipper in the inaugural season of the ACWS to win both the match racing and fleet racing championships. He won the match racing title Saturday by sweeping two races from the French Energy Team. The ACWS, sailed in ports around the world, is a prelude to the 2013 America's Cup on San Francisco Bay.
Ellison, one of the world's richest men, rode along both days in the non-sailing guest racer spot on Spithill's AC45. He also was on board BMW Oracle Racing's giant trimaran in the clinching race of the 2010 America's Cup, when Spithill completed a two-race sweep of Alinghi of Switzerland off Valencia, Spain, to win the oldest trophy in international sports for San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club.
This stop of the ACWS was the first America's Cup racing in the United States since Russell Coutts -- now Oracle Racing's CEO -- led Team New Zealand to a five-race sweep of Dennis Conner off San Diego in 1995.
"We've worked really hard. It's just great to be able to reward all the guys behind us who've got us here, especially Larry," said Spithill, who at 30 was the youngest skipper to win the Auld Mug. "Whenever Larry's around, everyone naturally lifts, and me personally. We're usually against each other. We're either racing each other or playing each other on the tennis court. But when we join together, he's such a competitor. We just love having him around.
"I know this sounds strange, but he really is one of the guys," Spithill said. "He comes in and it's amazing how onto it he is straight away. He's got a pretty big day job and somehow he can come in. For instance, he jumped on the helm after the racing in the semifinals and instantly we're up to speed. He did the same thing on the trimaran in Valencia. He had no experience, jumped straight on the trimaran and no issue. The guy's just a natural athlete and we love having him around."
Ellison left immediately after the race to return to his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Spithill's winning move Sunday came when he rounded the right-hand gate at the end of the third leg and sailed into clean air with no traffic around him. He won by nearly a minute over Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand. Energy Team was third in the nine-boat fleet, followed by France's Aleph, Team Korea, Sweden's Artemis Racing, China Team, Green Comm Racing of Spain and Oracle Racing-Coutts, which was skippered for this regatta by Aussie Dean Bundock.
Beating a trans-Tasman rival made Spithill's victory that much sweeter.
"Mate, the worst thing you can ever do in life is let a Kiwi get one up on you," Spithill said about beating Barker. "I can tell you, it's been absolutely brutal since after the Rugby World Cup."
Barker came into this regatta crowing about the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup last month, over France. Australia finished in third place.
"This really was high-pressure stuff," Spithill said.
Spithill and Barker, who steered Team New Zealand's boat in the clinching race of the 2000 America's Cup, have traded victories in the first two ACWS stops. Spithill won the match racing championship in the opener in Cascais, Portugal, and the fleet racing title in Plymouth, England. Barker won the fleet racing in Cascais and the match racing in Plymouth.
"We did the double," Spithill said. "The last thing we wanted to do was let Dean get there first. Now we want to get the double-double, do the same in Naples."
The next ACWS regatta is in Naples, Italy, in April, followed by Venice in May and Newport, R.I., in June.
Despite Spithill's double win here, Team New Zealand continues to lead the ACWS standings with 55 points, followed by Spithill with 54. Artemis Racing, skippered by American Terry Hutchinson, is a distant third with 40 points.
Barker said the Kiwis sailed "all right. We could always sail better. We're happy. Still not bad results, but we like to win."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press