Dean Barker steered Team New Zealand to honours on Day Three at Naples, but it may not be enough to deny archrivals Oracle Team USA from taking overall America's Cup World Series honours tomorrow.
In some of the most challenging conditions seen yet at this regatta, TNZ showed jet-like speed in winning both of the day's fleet races. The wind strength ranged between 7-12 knots, but there was a nasty chop on the bay that placed added emphasis on smooth boathandling.
After scoring the double firsts, Team New Zealand were the third overall leaders of the series in as many days. Barker's crew led the first race from start to finish and then pulled off a nifty pass on Luna Rossa Swordfish (Francesco Bruni) to win the second race.
Those two boats were involved in a nasty crash during match racing the previous day.
"I feel like all through training and racing, we've had good pace through all the conditions," said Barker. "But there's a bit of a mistral pushing a little bit of seaway into the bay.
"It makes these boats nasty to sail - they don't like waves - but it rewards good crew work and I think that's a strength of our team."
But stand-in skipper Tom Slingsby is on the verge of securing the season-long battle for Oracle.
Regular boss Jimmy Spithill led the team to the inaugural America's Cup World Series season championship last year and opened a 44-point lead through the first two regattas in the second season of racing.
But he couldn't attend this week's regatta, because the team is about to launch its second AC72 in preparation for the upcoming America's Cup in San Francisco, so in stepped Slingsby, the Laser class gold medalist at last summer's London Olympics.
Slingsby has shown a steady hand in his first world series regatta, leading the team into tomorrow's match-racing championship and also eyeing a chance to win the fleet-racing championship.
But regardless of how he finishes tomorrow, Oracle is in a strong position for the overall season championship.
"It's great for the team, winning the America's Cup World Series for the second year in a row," said Slingsby. "I'm glad I could help in some way, but this championship doesn't belong to me.
"It belongs to Jimmy and his team for setting it all up. I came in with a nice big lead."
Slingsby placed 2-5 in the two fleet races and trails New Zealand by five points. The Oracle tactician/strategist began his day with a victory in the match-racing semi final over Ben Ainslie's JP Morgan BAR. Although the two are brothers in arms in Oracle Team USA, there was no quarter given in their quick, 11-minute match race.
Oracle races Luna Rossa Swordfish in tomorrow's match-racing championship. Bruni also won an in-house battle in the semi-finals, when he beat Chris Draper and the Luna Rossa Piranha crew.
The two squared off after an extended training period in New Zealand.
"I feel comfortable, I feel all the training we have done in Auckland was very useful," said Bruni. "We really put a lot of hours into our match racing skills.
"I think Chris has improved a lot and I've improved a lot steering."
Slingsby, who has overcome the pressure of winning a gold medal as a heavy favourite, has his sights set high for tomorrow.
"I want to win tomorrow," Slingsby said. "New Zealand has a nice lead right now, but if we win tomorrow, we'll take the glory.
"For the team, it's great, but for me personally, my job's not done yet - I want to win tomorrow.
"This is my one chance in an America's Cup World Series. Who knows when the next event will be, so I'm trying to make most of it."
America's Cup World Series Naples
(After six of seven scheduled races)
1. Emirates Team New Zealand (Dean Barker) 60 points
2. Oracel Team USA (Tom Slingsby) 55
3. JP Morgan BAR (Ben Ainslie) 52
4. Luna Rossa Piranha (Chris Draper) 50
5. Energy Team (Yann Guichard) 42
6. Luna Rossa Swordfish (Francesco Bruni) 40
7. Artemis Racing White (Charlie Ekberg) 31
8. HS Racing (R. Hagara/HS Steinacher) 26
9. China Team (Mitch Booth) 22
2012-2013 America's Cup World Series
(After 20 of 21 races)
1. Oracle Team USA Spithill/Slingsby 220 points
2. Luna Rossa Piranha 171
3. J.P. Morgan BAR 168
4. Emirates Team New Zealand 160
5. Artemis Racing White 151
6. Energy Team 144
7. Luna Rossa Swordfish 111
8. Team Korea 105
9. Oracle Team USA Courtts 98
10. Artemis Racing Red 90
11. China Team 65
12. HS Racing 26
Match Racing Schedule
Final: Oracle Team USA Slingsby v Luna Rossa Swordfish
Provisional Match Racing Standings
3. JP Morgan BAR
4. Luna Rossa Piranha
5. Emirates Team New Zealand
6. Artemis Racing White
7. Energy Team
8. HS Racing
9. China Team