AP Sports Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Skipper Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand completed a pair of near-flawless races Wednesday, overpowering Italy's Luna Rossa to take a 4-1 lead in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals.
In the first races of the series without a mechanical failure, Emirates looked every bit like the boat to beat on sparkling San Francisco Bay. Barker guided the Kiwis ahead by the first mark both times, leaving the Luna Rossa crew and its silver sailing gear glistening from behind the rest of the way.
Emirates won the first race by 2 minutes, 18 seconds and the second race by 1:28. The winner of the best-of-13 series will face defending champion Oracle Team USA in the 34th America's Cup starting Sept. 7.
Just completing real races was a major success for the troubled regatta.
Only one boat finished the first three races of the challenger finals. And officials had to call off the second race each of the first three days because of wind that exceeded the safety limit.
The latest competitions ended almost before they began.
In the first race, Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper moved his 72-foot catamaran too close to the start line. He had perfect inside position but had to pull back so he didn't cross before the clock, and by the time he could pick up speed again, Emirates already had a large lead.
Barker's patient tactic allowed Emirates to hit the start line at full acceleration and leave Luna Rossa difficult air in its path. The Kiwis hit a top speed of nearly 44 knots, or 50 mph, by the first mark and pulled off several smooth foiling gybes -- when a boat changes direction while sailing downwind and stays on the foils, without the hulls touching the water.
Any chance the Italians had to come back ended when they sailed out of bounds on the left side of the course while the Kiwis were extending their lead upwind toward the Golden Gate Bridge. They received a two-boat lengths penalty.
The next competition started about 30 minutes later.
In the second race, both boats got off to an even start. But the Kiwis covered the Italians' every move, foiling far better and far faster to pull away by the third leg of the five-leg race.
Foiling is when the boat is going fast enough to pop up onto the daggerboard in the leeward hull and winglets on the bottom of the rudders and ride over the tops of the waves, its hulls out of the water. That reduces drag and increases speed -- something the Kiwis have been far better at this summer.
Luna Rossa is still winless against favored Emirates when the Kiwis' catamaran is functional.
The Kiwis went 5-0 against the Italians in the round-robins, including the opener that Luna Rossa boycotted because of a rules spat. The Kiwis twice beat the Italians by more than 5 minutes, and the closest margin was 2:19.
The current course is three legs shorter than the one used during the round-robins.
Antonio Gonzalez be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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