With just weeks to go to the start of racing in Bermuda the 35th America’s Cup is shaping up to be one of the closest and most difficult to call in the history of the 140-year-old competition.
On paper, the defenders Oracle Team USA should be the favourite. The American team likely holds the largest budget and has cleverly used the idiosyncrasies of the America’s Cup rules to stack the deck at least somewhat in its favour.
In the last edition back in 2013 on San Francisco Bay Oracle had to stage a momentous comeback from the very brink of defeat after the challenger Emirates Team New Zealand had outperformed them on virtually every leg of the course.
Important lessons were learned and this time around the American syndicate has made sure it gains valuable race training by taking part in the knock-out series that determines which of the five challenging teams they will face in the America’s Cup final match.
Equally, it seems too that the New Zealand sailors learned lessons of their own. Wary of showing their hand as early as they did in San Francisco, this time the Kiwi crew was the last to arrive in Bermuda, having instead spent the winter training in Bermuda-like conditions in Auckland.
Despite an illustrious pedigree in the America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand is very much the outsider this time around. There has never been much love lost between ETNZ and OTUSA but the relationship this time is frostier than it has ever been.
Emirates Team New Zealand were the only team not to sign up to a joint agreement committing the America’s Cup to be raced in foiling boats for the next two editions on a two-year rather than four-year cycle.
The New Zealander’s refused to join the ‘gang of five’ but offered no alternative strategy of their own. Their only public response was a brief comment on social media: “Emirates Team New Zealand believe the future America’s Cup format is to be decided by the Defender and Challenger of Record as it has historically been.”
Perhaps by way of an admonishment for not falling into line, a few weeks ago the Kiwis were left wrong footed by a sudden rule change that enabled the five teams already in Bermuda to begin test racing against each other ahead of schedule.
Emirates Team New Zealand also stands – or rather, sits – alone as the only team to have chosen pedal powered grinding stations on its boat. Whether the somewhat bizarre-looking setup will pay dividends when racing commences is impossible to say at this stage, but there will likely be some team bosses having sleepless nights as they mull that question over.
With the future of the America’s Cup very much at stake the Kiwis could be in for a rough ride in Bermuda. Friendly faces will be few and far between and they will do well to keep their wits about them.
However, it’s a situation mostly of their own making and one they are very much aware of.
“There are five teams that want us dead now, not one, only because we’ve ruined their little parade,” ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton said in an interview with the New York Times recently.
Now, how’s that for a bit of old-school style pre-regatta tension building?