BY STUART ALEXANDER
It took until the last few, furious tacks of the last beat of the last race of the final Louis Vuitton Cup round-robin for Japan to force their way into the challenger semi-finals of the America's Cup. They started the last leg with only an eight-second lead over a Spanish crew which departed in heroic style - the final margin was just 13 seconds.
Unlucky for the French? They needed the Japanese - who look well placed to make further advances when the semi-finals start on 18 March - to lose against the Spanish if they were to salvage their own tattered dreams. They had enough of those, what with a smashed boat, a dismasting in a crucial late race, and the soap-opera theatricals of an on/off/on again helmsman and skipper.
However, by joining the still unbeaten Team New Zealand, the dangerous third-placed Tag Heuer, and oneAustralia, second overall despite having to recover from the sinking of their newest and fastest boat, the quartet from whom the eventual sole challenger to the defending Americans will win through are the strongest available.
LOUIS VUITTON CUP (San Diego) Round-robin four, race seven: oneAustralia bt Tag Heuer, 57 sec; France 3 bt Sydney '95, 1 min 36 sec; Nippon Challenge bt Bayona-Valencia, 13 sec. Final standings (top four go through to semi- finals): 1 Team New Zealand, 65pts; 2 oneAustralia, 53; 3 Tag Heuer, 49; 4 Nippon Challenge, 28; 5 France 3, 25; 6 Bayona-Valencia, 14; 7 Sydney '95, 13.
CITIZEN CUP: Round-robin four, day seven: Stars & Stripes bt Mighty Mary, 1 min 35 sec. Standings: 1 Pact '95, 46pts; 2 Stars & Stripes, 39; 3 Mighty Mary, 21.