SAN FRANCISCO — Defending America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA could be in deep trouble against scrappy Emirates Team New Zealand.
The American powerhouse was so soundly beaten by the Kiwis in Race 5 Tuesday that Larry Ellison's syndicate had to call timeout.
Ellison, the software billionaire who runs Oracle Corp., has made crew changes before, and some could be coming after a major blunder by his team let Team New Zealand speed off to a resounding victory of 1 minute, 5 seconds on San Francisco Bay on Tuesday.
Not long before the scheduled start of Race 6, Oracle Team USA radioed in to the race committee that it was playing its one postponement card of the regatta, meaning the race was scrubbed until Thursday.
The Kiwis crushed the momentum Oracle gained with its heart-stopping win in Race 4 on Sunday.
Team New Zealand leads 4 to minus-1 and needs five more wins to claim the oldest trophy in international sports for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
Oracle was docked two points by an international jury and wing sail trimmer Dirk de Ridder was booted from the regatta in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America's Cup. It needs 10 wins to keep the Auld Mug.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill said Oracle Team USA needs to regroup and make some changes. Whether they're to the 72-foot catamaran, the crew or tactics — or all three — remains to be seen. Oracle has made numerous errors this regatta and Team New Zealand continues to make strong gains sailing upwind.
Either way, it was a stunning move for the well-funded, deep sailing team that won the America's Cup in 2010.
After Oracle announced it was playing its card, Spithill hopped onto a chase boat and conferred with syndicate CEO Russell Coutts, who won the first two of his four America's Cups as skipper of Team New Zealand in 1995 and 2000.
Spithill declined to recap that conversation.
"Oh, we were just talking about rugby, weather," Spithill cracked. "No, I can't, actually. I'd love to tell you, I really would. But no."
Asked how safe he feels, the Australian said: "You can be a rooster one day and a feather duster the next, mate."
It's unlikely Spithill would get the boot. Early speculation was that tactician John Kostecki, a San Francisco native who called for the tack that cost the team dearly, could get subbed out.
Spithill was asked if Kostecki would be on the boat Thursday, when Races 6 and 7 are schedule
"I can't guarantee anything," he said. "I probably can't guarantee I'll be on there. It's too early to make a decision right now. It's really part of the reason why we played the card. We need time to assess our program and the boat. We need to get it heading in the other direction. We've got time, fortunately. There are a lot of races left."
Kostecki usually attends post-race news conference with Spithill. On Tuesday, rising star Tom Slingsby, a gold medalist for Australia at the London Olympics and a strategist and grinder for Oracle, accompanied the skipper.