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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stars & Stripes Hits Stride for Repechage

APBritain's GBR Challenge returning to harbor in Auckland after being knocked out of the Louis Vuitton Cup by Stars & Stripes.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- New York's Stars & Stripes gained status as the wild card of the America's Cup challenger series when it sealed an impressive 4-1 win quarterfinal over Britain's GBR Challenge on Monday.

The syndicate assembled by four-time Cup-winner Dennis Conner is sailing a new yacht with new confidence. For that reason, Seattle's OneWorld Challenge is likely to shun the New York challenge when, on Tuesday, it chooses its opponent for quarterfinal repechages starting Saturday.

Stars & Stripes beat Britain's GBR Challenge by 1 minute, 42 seconds Monday to claim its place in the repechages and to end the campaign of the first British Cup challenge in 16 years.

Sweden's Victory Challenge beat Le Defi of France by 2:34 to also progress to the repechages and to eliminate the French team from the challenger series.

Victory, Stars & Stripes, OneWorld and Prada of Italy will contest the sail-offs from which two teams will be found to join Alinghi of Switzerland and Oracle of San Francisco in the semifinals in December.

OneWorld, as highest qualifier, has 24 hours from the conclusion of Monday's racing to decide which of its three prospective opponents it will race.

Given Stars & Stripes' form against GBR and the fact New York's USA-77 has been seen only in its five quarterfinal races, limiting available data, OneWorld is more likely to make Victory its conservative choice.

USA-77 was salvaged after sinking in shallow water off Long Beach in mid-July, fitted with a new bow and returned tentatively to service. For some time its crew lacked confidence in its soundness.

The yacht proved itself in the quarterfinals in which it was beaten only once, then because of a pre-start penalty rather than the superiority of its opponent. It was clear after Monday's win that teams are now staying clear of Stars & Stripes.

"We like our sailing at the moment," said New York helmsman Ken Read. "Our confidence is high and there's just a great feeling around the compound. It all started with a little boatspeed. You just sail better when you're going faster."

America's Cup veteran Tom Whidden, who has sailed in all Conner campaigns since 1980, said the crew had an understandable lack of faith in the soundness of USA-77 after its sinking.

"We thought she was a really good boat but we had to be sure she could take it," he said. "She's actually a great boat and she's given us a lot of speed.

"It takes 30 things to win the America's Cup and at the moment we're doing all of those things a whole lot better."

Stars and Stripes led by a commanding 42 seconds at the first mark, lost 20 seconds when the British yacht rode down on a shift on the next, offwind leg, then built its lead to 1:35.

Comparisons are now being drawn with Conner's 1987 campaign when Stars & Stripes was off the pace early in the challenger series but made huge gains to win the challenger final and the America's Cup.

"I don't think it's anything like 1987," Read said.

"The truth is we're still surviving the sinking. It boils down to one fact ... we were lucky to get our raceboat back."

The end of the ambitious British campaign produced raw emotions. There had been no British challenge since 1987, until telecommunications entrepreneur Peter Harrison stepped forward with $35 million to revive Britain's involvement, which stems from 1851.

"I don't cry very often but today I had a tear in my eye when we went out and I had a tear in my eye when we came back," skipper Ian Walker said.

Harrison added: "I had two goals when we came here. The first was to win the America's Cup and the second was to win one race. It has to come to an end eventually for everyone because only one team can win the Cup and sadly it will not be us this time."

Victory was commanding in its performance over Le Defi, in a 4-1 series win that was dented only by a sloppy tactical performance in their fourth race of the day.

Jesper Bank took the helm Monday from Magnus Holmberg and Victory, that followed the French across the start line, led by 33 seconds at the first mark, extending on every leg.

Bank said there would be a small celebration in the Victory camp Monday night, inspired by the memory of Jan Stenbeck, the Swedish media magnate who founded the challenge but died in Paris in August.

"Jan told us to go out and win and celebrate heavily and we're doing that," Bank said.

"But at the same time we're remembering that this is a just a step and that going up against a top-four team is a bigger challenge."