FREMANTLE, Australia -- The crew of Stars & Stripes, needing only one more victory over U.S.A. to advance to the finals of the America's Cup challenger series, Wednesday plotted the downfall of New Zealand's star yacht.
'We've got a plan for the Kiwis and a plan for the Cup,' Stars & Stripes tactician Tom Whidden. 'We can mold our boat to compete with the boat we're racing against.'
Stars & Stripes skipper Dennis Conner and New Zealand KZ7 skipper Chris Dickson need one triumph each to sweep their best-of-seven series before facing each other Jan. 13.
The winner of the finals faces the top Australian defender in the America's Cup showdown beginning Jan. 31.
Dickson confronts a greatly improved French Kiss on Friday while Conner races U.S.A., the twin-ruddered Twelve skippered by Tom Blackaller. All four teams practiced Wednesday.
'The concentration level needed to keep our boat going the same as Tom's is at a very high level, and that will help us race against the Kiwis,' Conner said.
In the defenders semifinals, which also resumes Friday, Alan Bond's Australia IV, 25-9, remained in first place with 65 points followed by Kevin Parry's Kookaburra III, 27-7, six points behind.
A jury Wednesday disqualified Australia IV from its race Monday with Kookaburra II, finding the boat Bond is counting on to defend the Cup failed to keep clear of the yacht. The verdict failed to affect the standings because Bond's flagship lost the contest.
Both yachts filed protests over a collision before the start of the race. Kookaburra II went on to win by 59 seconds.
Kookaburra II, 20-14, held third place with 52 points and Steak 'n Kidney, 20-14, was last with 18.
Whidden said Stars & Stripes is in excellent form as it prepars for its likely meeting with New Zealand, which has won 36 of its 37 races.
'We are crescendoing when we need to,' he said. 'Our crew work is starting to look good, like I told everyone it would.'
Stars & Stripes defeated U.S.A. by 3:02 in moderate winds and 10 seconds in lighter air during the first two semifinal races. With winds strengthening to 27 knots Tuesday, Conner proved his superiority in heavy air.
Blackaller, 0-3, and French Kiss skipper Marc Pajot, 0-3, face daunting tasks of winning four straight races.
Conner, the only helsman to defeat the Kiwis, stressed he is not taking Friday's race against U.S.A. for granted.
'We have to look at the rest of this series just as seriously as the first race,' he said. 'The fact we're racing against Tom and the rest of the U.S.A. crew has sharpened us.'
Whidden said the next step is comparing times of his boat around the 24.5-mile course with that of the Kiwis.
'We'll see what our strengths are and decide if we need another quantum jump of some kind,' he said. 'If we don't we'll just race the way we are now.'
Design team head John Marshall said experience will give Stars & Stripes an edge against New Zealand.
Dickson, 25, is the youngest helmsman at the America's Cup. Conner, 44, the 1980 successful Cup defender, lost the trophy to Australia II in 1983 but is regarded as one of the world's top racers.
'(Dickson) has had a lot of experience in the last few months sailing Twelves and has shown brilliance as a sailor,' Marshall said.
'But it really takes a Dennis Conner when you have a race that's close and you're behind all day long and then the other guy gives you a little bit. And if you're fast enough, you've got a chance. It's worth something.'