SAN FRANCISCO Might a British knight be able to help turn around the America's Cup misfortunes of defending champion Oracle Team USA? Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor ever, subbed for struggling tactician John Kostecki during Oracle's training session Wednesday on San Francisco Bay.
Syndicate CEO Russell Coutts said skipper Jimmy Spithill will make the decision whether Ainslie replaces Kostecki for races 6 and 7 today against Emirates Team New Zealand.
"I think he's thinking that's what we'll do," Coutts said.
Ainslie has been serving as helmsman of Oracle's B boat, helping prepare Spithill for the competition.
"You've got to remember, changing personnel at a time like this has never worked in the past, so we've got to be cautious about making a change like that," Coutts said.
While Spithill has been aggressive and dominating at the start of races, tactical blunders and the Kiwis' dominance while sailing upwind have put the defenders in a deep hole. Kostecki called for a foiling tack in Race 5 on Tuesday that led to a crushing loss to Team New Zealand. The American powerhouse was so soundly beaten that it played its one postponement card for the regatta and called off Race 6 in order to regroup.
The Kiwis lead 4 to minus-1 and need five wins to claim the oldest trophy in international sports. Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., was docked two points by an international jury in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America's Cup. It needs to win 10 races to keep the Auld Mug.
Coutts, who won the first two of his four America's Cups as skipper of Team New Zealand in 1995 and 2000, said Ainslie might make a difference.
"He's obviously an extremely accomplished sailor, but Jimmy and Ben and Tommy Slingsby haven't worked together yet," Coutts said. "That's a pretty big ask at this point in the regatta."
Slingsby, who like Ainslie won a gold medal at the London Olympics, is the strategist and a grinder aboard Oracle's 72-foot catamaran.