Yachting: Oracle make bid for longer races

By Paul Lewis

Grant Dalton. Photo / NZ Herald
Grant Dalton. Photo / NZ Herald

Oracle are seeking to lengthen the races in the America's Cup in San Francisco - possibly to gain an advantage over challengers like Emirates Team New Zealand.

However, the change, to be discussed at a pivotal May 14 meeting in the US, seems unlikely to occur. Changes of that nature can only be made with the unanimous consent of all three challengers and Team NZ are against it, even before the views of fellow challengers Artemis and Luna Rossa are known.

Emirates Team NZ boss Grant Dalton said yesterday that Oracle had raised the subject of changes to the length of the course: "They are saying that the boats are going faster than expected and the race may not be long enough. They are saying that if the wind is off-axis a little bit, it could affect things and they want to add more laps to the races."

Dalton said the effect of that would bring more upwind legs into play. The significance is that ETNZ's 72-foot catamaran has been the acknowledged early leader in the design and performance stakes leading into the start of the America's Cup regattas (the Louis Vuitton begins in July, finding a challenger to take on Oracle in the Cup regatta).

Team NZ have led the way in hydrofoiling - the art of reducing drag by lifting the giant yachts out of the water, connected only by foils and daggerboards - and they are popularly suspected of having the best downwind performance of all four syndicates. The reality won't be known until the yachts measure up against each other in San Francisco but Team NZ have been openly seeking a balance that gives them better upwind performance.

Oracle's new version of the 72-foot cat, replacing the one lost when it capsized last year, is also thought to have advances in sailing upwind - a possible reason for the interest in more laps, though no one really knows how much performance downwind will be balanced by deficiencies upwind (and vice versa). However, if one yacht has an advantage upwind, course changes bringing that more into play provide an obvious boost.

Dalton said Emirates Team NZ would not be supporting the move - even though some yachting observers have previously expressed disappointment that the course is such a sprint course rather than an endurance version.

"Our view is, and will be expressed at the May 14 meeting, that the course has been set, the boats were designed with that course in mind and there are other options available."

Oracle CEO Sir Russell Coutts, speaking at a dinner in Auckland on Friday night, hinted that Oracle yet had cards to play re the regatta.

"I think there will be some developments over the next three or four months which will potentially change things."

Dalton and Coutts clash at fund-raiser, p56.

- Herald on Sunday

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