SAN FRANCISCO — Defending America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA could be in deep trouble against scrappy Emirates Team New Zealand.
The American powerhouse was so soundly beaten by the Kiwis in Race 5 on Tuesday that Larry Ellison's syndicate had to call a timeout.
Ellison, the software billionaire who runs Oracle Corp., has made crew changes before, and more could be coming after a major blunder by his team let Team New Zealand speed off to a resounding victory of 1 minute, 5 seconds on San Francisco Bay on Tuesday.
Not long before the scheduled start of Race 6, Oracle Team USA radioed in to the race committee that it was playing its one postponement card of the regatta, meaning the race was scrubbed until Thursday.
The Kiwis crushed the momentum Oracle gained with its heart-stopping win in Race 4 on Sunday.
Team New Zealand leads 4 to minus-1 and needs five more wins to claim the oldest trophy in international sports.
Oracle was docked two points by an international jury and wing sail trimmer Dirk de Ridder was booted from the regatta in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America's Cup. It needs 10 wins to keep the Auld Mug.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill said Oracle Team USA needs to regroup and make some changes. Whether they're to the 72-foot catamaran, the crew or tactics—or all three—remains to be seen. Oracle has made numerous errors this regatta and Team New Zealand continues to make strong gains sailing upwind.
Asked how safe he feels, Spithill said: "You can be a rooster one day and a feather duster the next, mate."
It's unlikely Spithill would get the boot. Early speculation was that tactician John Kostecki, a San Francisco native, could get subbed out.
Spithill was asked if Kostecki would be on the boat Thursday, when Races 6 and 7 are scheduled.
"I can't guarantee anything," he said. "I probably can't guarantee I'll be on there. It's too early to make a decision right now. It's really part of the reason why we played the card. We need time to assess our program and the boat. We need to get it heading in the other direction. We've got time, fortunately. There are a lot of races left."
Wednesday is an off day. Oracle plans to go out and practice. The Kiwis plan to stay ashore, work on the boat and use their simulators to try to improve their starts, the one area where they're weak.
Oracle Team USA led on the first two legs Tuesday and then called for a foiling tack, a radical, quick turn around the downwind mark. The crew botched the tack and practically came to a stop, costing it almost all of its 150-meter lead.
"In this racing, you only need to make a couple little mistakes here and there and they add up very quickly," Spithill said. "As we've seen in these boats, what's good or bad, depending on if you're in the lead or behind, you make a mistake, you get absolutely punished for it."