Sixth place for French as series ends in walkovers

By sailing around the course on their own yesterday, the French challenge for the America's Cup at last made sure of securing the sixth spot in the double round robin semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination trials which begin on 2 January.

By sailing around the course on their own yesterday, the French challenge for the America's Cup at last made sure of securing the sixth spot in the double round robin semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination trials which begin on 2 January.

Their opponents, San Francisco's America True, had stayed home, already assured of their place in the next round. Top-of-the-table Italy did not bother with the walkover against the Swiss, already retired from round robin three, the Nippon Challenge delivered the coup de grâce to Hawaii's Abracadabra, and the Spanish went out with some pride, beating Dennis Conner, who was driving Stars & Stripes.

Also sailing on their own were the previously highly-fancied New York Yacht Club. They had been caught like rabbits in the headlights of an approaching juggernaut of five defeats in the high-scoring, decisive round and the move by America True merely served to leave the body twitching in the middle of the road.

Even Young Australia could not be bothered to turn up and race them yesterday. They, too, are irrevocably eliminated and their skipper, James Spithill, now has new business to attend to back home as he prepares to helm his boss Syd Fischer's 50-footer Ragamuffin in the Sydney to Hobart Race, which starts on Boxing Day. He will have British Olympic representative Andy Beadsworth alongside him.

Today New York will put themselves out of their misery by agreeing to allow the race officer to declare the series over. They know the French will not race them and that will allow all the semi-finalists to start work on modification. Their skipper, Ed Baird - as he welcomed back the repaired boat which buckled in round two - yesterday said they would be ready to join practice with the remaining challengers.

LOUIS VUITTON CUP (Auckland) Final standings (Top six to semi-finals): 1 Prada F de Angelis (It) 109pts; 2 Nippon Challenge P Gilmour (Japan) 101.5; 3 America True D Riley (US) 101; 4 AmericaOne P Cayard (US) 99; 5 Stars & Stripes D Conner (US) 81.5; 6 Le Défi B Pace (Fr) 77; 7 Young America E Baird (US) 60; 8 Brava Espana L Doreste (Sp) 53; 9 Abracadabra J Kolius (US) 43; 10 Young Australia J Spithill (Aus) 18; 11 Fast 2000 M Pajot (Swit) 8.

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