|The BMW Oracle sets sail at the start if the race off Valencia [GALLO/GETTY]
US challenger BMW Oracle won the opening race of the 33rd America's Cup, beating Swiss holders Alinghi by almost 4km in a stunning display of hi-tech sailing.
Software mogul Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle started badly but was clearly faster than Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi and opened a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series with surprising ease.
The American trimaran finished the 40km course more than 15 minutes ahead of Alinghi, reaching speeds of more than 20 knots with two of its three carbon-fibre hulls raised high out of the water.
The second race between the giant multi-hull yachts is scheduled for Sunday off the Spanish port city of Valencia.
BMW Oracle skipper James Spithill lured Alinghi into a penalty during aggressive pre-start manoeuvres, the Swiss boat with Bertarelli at the helm failing to give way just before Friday's starting gun.
Spithill then appeared to undo his good work, stalling at the line as Alinghi surged ahead in winds of between 6 and 10 knots.
But BMW Oracle, with its unique wing-shaped mast and mainsail configuration, soon made up the distance on Alinghi and had opened up a lead of 650 metres within 20 minutes of the start.
The American boat was 3 minutes 21 seconds ahead at the halfway mark after the first upwind leg and widened its lead on the downwind leg, reaching speeds of about 25 knots.
Alinghi's official losing margin was blown out to 15 minutes 28 seconds after the Swiss boat was forced to perform a penalty turn before crossing the finish line because of its pre-start transgression.
Friday's race start ended a week of frustration during which the first race was postponed twice because of unsuitable weather.
The regatta itself was delayed during more than two years of often bitter legal wrangling between Swiss biotechnology and banking billionaire Bertarelli's Alinghi and BMW Oracle.
The event had been scheduled for 2009 but was delayed by the legal battles over hosting rights and technology which led to a three-race series without the usual challengers regatta.
The legal battles over rules – governed by a 19th century "Deed of Gift" – also resulted in two multi-hull boats sailing against each other for the first time in the Cup's 159-year history.
Both boats are being raced for the first time and are capable of extraordinary speeds for sailing vessels but are more fragile than traditional monohulls.
Alinghi had been thought to be faster in lighter conditions but BMW Oracle showed a clear advantage over the Swiss catamaran both upwind and downwind, making clear than Bertarelli's hold on the America's Cup may be slipping.