By Jonathan Weber and Alden Bentley
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 24 (Reuters) - Oracle Team USA won it's sixth straight race against Emirates Team New Zealand in the America's Cup finals on Tuesday, continuing an epic comeback in a regatta that was all but over a week ago.
The reeling Kiwi team sealed it's fate before the Tuesday's first race even began, drawing a double-penalty as the race was starting that allowed Oracle to jump out to an insurmountable lead.
A second race was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, though high winds threatened to again delay a competition that had once been scheduled to wrap up last Saturday. New Zealand now leads the best-of-17 competition 8-7.
The U.S. team backed by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison has thrived on adversity, holding New Zealand at match point for days in every type of condition the wind gods could concoct.
Racing has been postponed several times for too much wind, not enough wind and wind from the wrong direction, dragging the event out into a third week.
New Zealand yachting fans, who just a week ago were about to pop the champagne corks to celebrate, are starting to fear the worst and starting to wonder whether skipper Dean Barker can pull off one more win in the face of Oracle's improved boat speed and crew work.
"I'm struggling to keep positive, my faith in the team and Dean is being sorely tested, we're only one (win) away, but my nerves are a bit like our chances, in tatters," said Wellington office worker Will Christie.
Tuesday's first race took place in perfect conditions, with about 20 knots of wind and bright sunshine on San Francisco Bay. New Zealand had the favorable port tack entry into the starting area, but were outmaneuvered just before the starting line into fouling the Oracle boat.
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill has consistently excelled on the starts, and his New Zealand counterpart, Dean Barker, appears to have lost his touch after nearly flawless performances in the early races of the series.
Oracle won in light air on Monday for its fifth in a row, and is now extending he longest winning streak in America's Cup history. If it succeeds in winning two more and taking the cup, it's comeback from an 8-1 deficit will count as one of the greatest in sports history.
With nine wins on the water, Oracle would already have won the Cup were it not for a two-race penalty for illegal boat modifications in a preliminary regatta.
After New Zealand's early dominance, Oracle made changes to its boat and its tactics that enabled it to erase a speed deficit on the critical upwind leg. It also replaced its tactician, installing Olympic champion Ben Ainslie in that role.