An inspirational speech from non-sailing Dennis Conner has been credited with boosting Stars & Stripes to the top of the leaderboard

An inspirational speech from non-sailing Dennis Conner has been credited with boosting Stars & Stripes to the top of the leaderboard after two races in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger yachting semifinals. Conner used his motivating address to discount claims his low-budget, late, campaign meant he was not serious about winning the America’s Cup, and he greeted his winning team back to shore today with several blasts from a cannon at his base. Stars & Stripes are now the only unbeaten team, with two wins from two races against the top two teams from the three early rounds.

Luna Rossa, AmericaOne, Asura and America True each have one win, while 6 Sens of France have lost both their starts. Though there are still eight races left, the nature of Team Dennis Conner’s win over Luna Rossa of Italy has them now labelled one of the favourites to make the two-boat cup finals. But navigator Peter Isler downplayed the favourite’s tag, saying the win-loss records of all the boats in the three round robins should not be discounted. That was led by the Prada camp, but with the pressure on from their opponents and winds gusting up to 35 knots, Luna Rossa’s crew fumbled and equipment broke.

Isler said Conner, who does not sail on the boat, told the team he had done all he could in putting together a campaign equipped to win the cup from Team New Zealand. “He made it clear he has done all he can to give us the equipment, the personnel to win this thing,” Isler said. “He understands that he didn’t have the deep pockets early on, and we have the one-boat programme, but using his realism he was able to fly out a campaign where we’re able to be where we are right now. “He reinforced that it might from the outside look like Dennis is here not giving it his all. He just put that to rest then and there, he’s done all he can. “We’re not the deepest pockets, but boy we’ve made some great steps along the way. They know we’re here now.” Conner’s boat took another step between the first and second races of the semifinals, having to be remeasured by officials this morning after another modification was made. Isler was not saying what was changed on the boat, but he said it was minor. “No big deal,” he said.

The boat is using a new mast and sails and boasts decision-makers who have sailed together for more than 20 years. Against Luna Rossa, that crew took the lead right at the start, and were able to hold off the Italians for the first two legs of the 18.5 nautical mile course. The pressure showed on Luna Rossa, with the crew battling a broken boom attachment, and then making a poor spinnaker change to hand the race to their rivals. Pitman Cristian Griggio was struck on the head by the collapsing boomvang, after one of his team mates leaned on it, and needed three staples to a cut on his forehead after racing. Poor crew work was also evident on AmericaOne, but the Paul Cayard team lost to their San Francisco rivals America True after breaking headsail equipment, which prevented them raising the front sail. The lead in their race was blown immediately, and America True, who had earlier battled a torn spinnaker and broken spinnaker pole, were able to pick up three minutes on one leg to clinch the one point for the win.

Peter Gilmour was fuming after the Nippon challenge’s loss to Stars & Stripes in the first race, and today he came out firing against 6 Sens. He took Asura late into the start box and then doggedly refused to give way to the French on starboard, strangely surviving a protest from 6 Sens which the umpires disallowed. While Asura controlled the bulk of the race, a dropped headsail halyard allowed the French to close, and when 6 Sens picked up a favourable change in the wind direction, Japan’s one-minute lead dropped to a few seconds at the fourth mark. But the French, whose narrow boat is extremely swift in light airs, could not peg back Asura in the high winds and Gilmour secured the point.