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Alinghi, New Zealand Vie for Cup

Updated:
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) _ Once again, the America's Cup is not going back to America.

Switzerland's Alinghi beat San Francisco's Oracle 5-1 in the challenger final, earning the right to face defending champion Team New Zealand.

Despite the lopsided score in the best-of-nine series, Alinghi and Oracle produced some of the best racing in years. But Alinghi made the most of wind shifts, penalties and equipment failures to capture the Louis Vuitton Cup, ending a four-month challenger series that began Oct. 1 and involved nine boats.

``It's Alinghi's day, Alinghi's week, and they sailed very well,'' Oracle skipper Chris Dickson said.

Alinghi, led by Russell Coutts, will face Team New Zealand in the final beginning Feb. 15. New Zealand has won the last two America's Cup regattas with Coutts at the helm.

``We've expected that we'd be facing them for quite some time,'' Team New Zealand syndicate head Tom Schnackenberg said. ``They're sailing very well, and they'll be well-rested, so I think it's going to be a great series.''

As the boats were towed to Viaduct Basin for the victory ceremony, Oracle's crew applauded Alinghi. At the presentations, Alinghi syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli, also the navigator, kissed and hugged wife Kristy. Oracle chief Larry Ellison, a software billionaire, spoke quietly with Dickson.

``I don't like to lose, but I knew that Larry and his team would be very tough, and he was,'' Bertarelli said.

When asked if he would try again to win the Cup, Ellison said: ``Absolutely.''

The America's Cup has carried an unmistakable stamp of U.S. power throughout the race's 152-history. But Oracle's loss leaves the America's Cup without a U.S. boat in the final for the second straight competition _ the only times ever.

It is also the third time in four challenge series that the winner has come from Europe _ Italy in 1992 and 2000, and Alinghi. Team New Zealand won the challenger series in 1995, then beat Dennis Conner and the San Diego Yacht Club for the Cup.

Oracle carried a penalty for all of Sunday's race after failing to give way to Alinghi during the prestart. Although Alinghi finished just under 10 seconds ahead of Oracle, the victory margin was 2 minutes, 34 seconds. Oracle had to do a penalty turn after it crossed the finish line.

``I think we had a very good tactical series, particularly near the end,'' Coutts said. ``We were two very good teams, but I think we capitalized on our opportunities more than they did.''

Oracle took the lead for the first time in the six-leg, 18.5-nautical-mile race by 10 seconds after three legs. On the final leg, as Oracle closed on Alinghi's lead, Dickson said, ``We can still win this thing.'' But Alinghi, knowing Oracle had to discharge the penalty, sailed conservatively to hold its lead.

Oracle's campaign ends after 34 races, including a 12-4 record in the round-robin series and 8-0 in two playoff series against OneWorld of Seattle.

Alinghi was 13-3 in the opening round-robin competition and its only loss in 14 elimination series matches since was to Oracle in the finals.

Bertarelli, the 37-year-old owner of Europe's third-largest biotech company, invested $70 million in his first America's Cup campaign. He calls sailing the perfect release from the demands of business.

``It allowed me to have a normal life, because when you're locked up in corporate life it's very difficult to meet real people. So I started competitive sailing and I met a lot of people after that,'' he said.

``Sailing brings me back to earth. I just enjoy the competition, enjoy people who share the same passion, and when I'm on board ... I'm just another person.''
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