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Dana Johannsen is a Herald sport writer

Dana Johannsen: Ellison's dream ignores realities

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Idea of world series doubling as qualifying for America's Cup would be nightmare of uncertainty for sponsors.

Larry Ellison wants a world series similar to that of the Formula 1 motor racing circuit. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Larry Ellison wants a world series similar to that of the Formula 1 motor racing circuit. Photo / Brett Phibbs

You've got to hand it to Larry Ellison - he certainly dreams big.

As the deadline draws near for America's Cup defenders Oracle Team USA to reveal the protocol for the 35th edition of the event, the technology billionaire and owner of the US team has revealed his vision for the future of the Cup.

A lot of his plans had been well signposted over the past couple of months as speculation builds over the shape of the next regatta, but it was the first time we've heard the grand salesman himself spell out his vision and rationale behind it.

Known for his innovation, Ellison typically has some bold plans. He wants to take yachting's greatest spectacle around the world, creating a sustainable world series similar to that of the Formula 1 circuit in motor racing. A similar format was introduced in the lead-up to the last event, but Ellison wants to expand on it, with more teams, more regular regattas and more host cities.

Even New Zealand would get a look-in to hosting the event, although Emirates Team NZ boss Grant Dalton has suggested the proposed commercial terms are far from desirable.

It is hoped taking the event on the road will generate a new level of interest in the America's Cup, building on the success of last year's regatta, in which Oracle's stunning come-from-behind victory over Team New Zealand propelled the event, and its personalities, onto the radar of the mainstream telly networks in the US.

But the curious part of Ellison's plans is that the series, to be held over 2015-16, would double as the qualifying rounds for the America's Cup proper as he looks to move away from the centralised Louis Vuitton challenger series format that has been used for the past 30 years.

The challengers, of which Ellison is expecting up to 12 (for real this time), would also be split into two divisions - Atlantic and Pacific - with the top two teams in each squaring off in a championship series before moving on to the challenger final.

To keep costs down and ensure the series gets up and running quickly, Ellison wants the teams to use the easy-to-ship, one-design AC45s until the finals, when the new boats would come into play.

It is expected the next America's Cup boat will be slightly smaller and less ambitious in design than the giant, super-fleet AC72 catamarans used in the last edition, but still spectacularly fast with foiling capabilities.

And herein lies the key problem. The proposed structure means the challengers would have to commit resources to designing, engineering and testing the new class of boat knowing there is a chance they may not even get to the big show. If they wait until they have qualified before building a boat, then they've immediately blunted their chances in the final as they won't have the testing and development time in the new boat.

While Ellison may have the resources to throw into building a boat that will never race, commercially funded teams don't have the same luxury. Sponsors will want some certainty that a team will be competing in an event before they commit any money. But in fairness to Larry, it can't be easy keeping a firm grasp on reality when you've got $56 billion in your bank account.

For the past 163 years the romance of the America's Cup has been just that - the Cup. Individuals have dedicated their entire lives in the pursuit of yachting's oldest prize.

Limit the number of teams in with a shot of challenging for the Cup and they don't have much reason to be involved other than knowing they'd be making Ellison's dreams come true.

- NZ Herald

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