Five chal­lengers in the run­ning to take on Or­a­cle Team USA

New Straits Times - - Sport -

LON­DON: For the crews of the sleek cata­ma­rans foil­ing above the sparkling wa­ters of Ber­muda’s Great Sound, win­ning the cov­eted Amer­ica’s Cup will be as much about de­sign as sail­ing.

But af­ter al­most four years of preparations and mil­lions of dol­lars de­vel­op­ing their 50-foot (15m) Amer­ica’s Cup Class craft, rac­ing should be tight when it be­gins to­mor­row to de­cide which of the five chal­lengers will take on Or­a­cle Team USA.

“If the boats were all painted the same colour you would strug­gle to work out who was who,” Artemis Rac­ing skip­per Nathan Out­teridge said in an in­ter­view last week.

Out­wardly, the big­gest dif­fer­ence is Emi­rates Team New Zealand’s de­fy­ing con­ven­tion and opt­ing for cy­clists rather than “grinders” work­ing winches to power the hy­draulics needed to con­trol the hy­dro­foils and tow­er­ing wing­sail which lift the boat out of the wa­ter so that it al­most flies above the waves.

“The higher you fly, the quicker you go,” said Out­teridge, adding that while the New Zealand setup is “im­pres­sive“, he does not ex­pect it to be a game-changer for the cata­ma­rans, which reach speeds of up to 50 knots (92.6 km per hour).

New Zealand, who have won the cup twice, ar­rived in Ber­muda later than the other teams and looked fast in prac­tice in their red, black and white “cat“, per­fect­ing high-speed tacks and gybes as their helms­man Peter Burl­ing changes the boat’s course.

“I don’t think the cy­cling part is go­ing to win or lose the Cup. Its more about the (hy­draulic) sys­tems,” Out­teridge said.

Ber­muda’s crys­tal clear wa­ters are a far-cry from the murky south coast of Eng­land where the cup was first won in 1851 by the US schooner “Amer­ica” in front of Queen Vic­to­ria, who was told “there is no sec­ond” when she asked about the run­ner-up.

Bri­tain has never won the cup and Land Rover BAR skip­per Ben Ainslie, the most suc­cess­ful Olympic sailor, has built his cam­paign around bring­ing it “home” to the base he has set up over­look­ing the Solent, where the race first took place in 1851.

But while they go into the Louis Vuit­ton Amer­ica’s Cup Qual­i­fiers with two bonus points for win­ning the 2015-16 Amer­ica’s Cup World Se­ries, Ainslie has not fared so well in prac­tice and last week hit New Zealand, dam­ag­ing both boats.

Ainslie won the Amer­ica’s Cup in 2013 as tac­ti­cian aboard Or­a­cle Team USA and is hop­ing to go head-to-head against his for­mer team and their skip­per Jimmy Sp­ithill.

Sp­ithill said last week that the Ber­muda event will be “the tough­est one to date“, with the new boats de­mand­ing a whole new level of phys­i­cal prow­ess.

“We’ll have the fight of our life, that’s for sure.”

An­other vet­eran plot­ting to bring Aus­tralian Sp­ithill’s streak of suc­cess to an end by qual­i­fy­ing for the Amer­ica’s Cup Match, which starts on June 17, is Dean Barker.

The rangy New Zealan­der, who is now skip­per and CEO of SoftBank Team Ja­pan, was the helms­man of the los­ing Emi­rates Team New Zealand crew in 2013. From the cusp of vic­tory in San Fran­cisco Bay, Barker and his team lost eight races in a row as Or­a­cle Team USA staged one of the great­est sport­ing come­backs.

Ja­pan is a late-comer to the 35th Amer­ica’s Cup but has had sup­port in Ber­muda from the US syn­di­cate, which is backed by Or­a­cle founder Larry El­li­son, and has per­formed well in prac­tice du­els against the other chal­lengers.

The other chal­lenge is from Groupama Team France, which has had less time to ac­cli­ma­tise to Ber­muda’s wind pat­terns and the Great Sound race­track.

Like Bri­tain, Ja­pan and Swe­den, the French crew skip­pered by Franck Cam­mas hopes to add to the se­lect list of coun­tries — United States, Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Switzer­land — which have lifted the “Auld Mug.” Reuters

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