New Zealand level with U.S. in America's Cup final

Pope Francis smiles with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband Joachim Sauer left on the occasion of their private audience at the Vatican Saturday

In the first race, Spithill was over the starting line early, forcing him to drop two boat lengths behind to clear the penalty.

In light easterly winds, the New Zealand team's foils, which lift the boat out of the water at speed, appeared to be more efficient, consolidating the Kiwis' reputation as light wind specialists.

In relatively light winds, Burling continued to sail smoothly, extending the Kiwis' advantage to a healthy margin of one minute and 52 seconds over their rivals by the fifth gate.

The final is a race to seven points, with New Zealand now 1-0 ahead of two races on Sunday.

"Yes, I'm hoping for an Oracle win, it's just my point of view for Team France". That means they need to win eight races total to spirit the Auld Mug back to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland, where it resided from 1995 until 2003.

Bertrand believes Burling is tough because of his dominance in winning the Olympic gold medal in the 49er class at Rio de Janeiro last summer with Blair Tuke, a Team New Zealand grinder.

Race 2 is to follow.

The New Zealanders have massive support at home, where sailing is a national sport.

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'I definitely think this bonus point advantage is going to be important, ' Spithill said. "We'll keep battling away and aim to get the remaining six wins needed as soon as possible".

Two races are scheduled on both days this weekend, beginning at 14:12 local time (1:12pm ET).

A win by New Zealand could threaten France's continued sponsorship by French insurance group Groupama as the Kiwis have not signed up to a framework agreement that was created to ensure continuity for the competition.

Spithill has never lacked confidence, whether it was as the 20-year-old skipper of a bare-bones Aussie challenge in the 2000 Americas Cup, or at age 30 becoming the youngest skipper to win sailings biggest prize.

"I think it's pretty obvious these guys are faster and we need to make some serious changes", a glum-looking Spithill said.

Team USA must find a solution to the superior upwind speed of Team NZ's catamaran and devise a way to rattle helmsman Burling, who has been flawless with his starts and decision-making so far, nullifying the proven match-racing ability of Spithill.

The always-innovative Kiwis are using a "cyclor" grinding system. "I thought we were faster than yesterday but unfortunately it's just not enough". But its 50-foot catamaran came off its foils during a bad gybe and buried its bows in the water, allowing the Kiwis to speed back ahead and open a lead of about 300 yards.

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