TEST OF TECH­NOL­OGY AND TRA­DI­TION

Amer­ica’s Cup show­down be­gins in Ber­muda

New Straits Times - - Sport -

THE Amer­ica’s Cup brings a breath­tak­ing blend of space-age tech­nol­ogy and sail­ing tra­di­tion to Ber­muda to­day, when five would-be chal­lengers be­gin their bat­tle for the right to take on Amer­ica’s Or­a­cle for global sport’s old­est tro­phy.

The lat­est gen­er­a­tion of Amer­ica’s Cup cata­ma­rans — 50 feet (15.24m) in length with tow­er­ing, 78-foot fixed-wing sails —will reach speeds of more than 80kmph as they rise above the waters of Ber­muda’s Great Sound, vir­tu­ally fly­ing on their hy­dro­foils in a spec­ta­cle likened to Formula One on wa­ter.

“It’s just the pin­na­cle of what we can imag­ine,” Or­a­cle coach Philippe Presti said of a com­pe­ti­tion that brings to­gether “the most com­pe­tent and tal­ented peo­ple of their gen­er­a­tion.”

Or­a­cle, the US syn­di­cate backed by tech­nol­ogy ti­tan Larry El­li­son and led by skip­per Jimmy Sp­ithill, will be go­ing for a “three­p­eat” af­ter vic­to­ries in 2010 and 2013.

Their chal­lenger will emerge from the Louis Vuit­ton Amer­ica’s Cup Qual­i­fiers that start to­day and con­tinue through June 12.

Australian Glenn Ashby skip­pers Emi­rates Team New Zealand.

Ben Ains­ley — who played a key role as tac­ti­cian in Or­a­cle’s stun­ning come­back vic­tory over Team New Zealand in 2013 — leads Land Rover BAR and aims to take the “Auld Mug” back to Bri­tain for the first time since the in­au­gu­ral edi­tion of the com­pe­ti­tion around the Isle of Wight in 1851.

Soft­Bank Team Ja­pan — the coun­try’s first en­try since 2000 — boasts plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence in vet­eran helms­man Dean Barker of New Zealand — who won the Cup in 2000.

Ja­panese sail­ing star Kazuhiko So­fuku is the gen­eral man­ager and bow­man of the syn­di­cate vy­ing to be­come the first Ja­panese team to claim the Cup.

Swe­den’s Artemis Rac­ing is skip­pered by Australian Nathan Out­teridge, with Bri­tain’s two-time Olympic cham­pion Iain Percy serv­ing as team man­ager and tac­ti­cian.

Groupama Team France — an­other new­comer — is led by renowned round-the-world sailor Franck Cam­mas and opens the ac­tion to­day against Team USA.

All six teams take part in round-robin qual­i­fy­ing, with four ad­vanc­ing to the Chal­lenger Play­offs to fight for a chance to take on Team USA be­gin­ning on June 17.

“No one is go­ing to walk away with it,” Team USA tac­ti­cian Tom Slingsby told amer­i­c­as­cup.com.

This gen­er­a­tion of Amer­ica’s Cup cata­ma­rans — smaller and more ma­noeu­vrable than the 72-foot craft that de­buted in 2013 in San Fran­cisco — could foil all the way around the course to make for a stun­ning spec­ta­cle for crowds watch­ing from the shore.

Among the in­no­va­tions this year, Team New Zealand is us­ing a cy­cling-type pedal sys­tem in­stead of arm grinders to power their hy­draulics.

Amid all the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, Sp­ithill says, the phys­i­cal and men­tal de­mands on the sailors “have gone up ex­po­nen­tially.”

The fierce com­pet­i­tive­ness of the match-race for­mat, how­ever, hasn’t changed.

“It’s very glad­i­a­to­rial be­tween the teams,” says Ainslie, who has al­ready drawn fire af­ter “clip­ping” Team New Zealand in prestart ma­noeu­vres dur­ing prac­tice rac­ing this month.

BAR team man­ager Jono Mac­beth — a three-time Amer­ica’s Cup win­ner — said push­ing the lim­its, tech­no­log­i­cally and tac­ti­cally, is what the Amer­ica’s Cup is all about.

“I think what we’ve got here is a col­lec­tive group of the best crews in the world, who are all in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive peo­ple and when you stick them on a race course they’re all there to win,” Mac­beth told amer­i­c­as­cup.com.

“It’s go­ing to be ex­cit­ing and that’s why peo­ple want to watch it.” AFP

AP PIC

Emi­rates Team New Zealand (left) sails along­side Groupama Team France dur­ing a prac­tice race for the Amer­ica’s Cup on Tues­day.

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