OPINION: By Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz
For 90 minutes, a Monday or two ago, sailing fans got the chance to see how AC75 racing could look on the Waitematā Harbour.
New York Yacht Club's American Magic lined up against Team New Zealand as part of a TV test session. The two foiling monohulls sailed in idyllic conditions on what is expected to be the Stadium Course - Course C - which has North Head and Bastion Point as its sidelines.
The rules around the prohibition of co-ordinated testing are well known. There was no formal start - just several hookups as the two teams got a first look at each other in the same patch of water, same breeze, and sailing in the same direction on the same tack.
Viewed from just a few metres above sea level on North Head, the AC75s are the most spectacular sight in sailing. Even more so given they are sailing at speeds of 40kts and more, in deep water close to shore, and passing just a proverbial biscuit throw from spectators.
In terms of a traditional match racing event - AC75 match racing doesn't look that different from previous America's Cups - which from 1992 to 2007 were sailed in conventional 85ft keelboats weighing 25,000kg.
The AC75 (tipping the scales at 7,800kgs) can spin on a dime. The foiling monohulls appear to be sailing as close to the wind as regular racing yachts, except the AC75's are sailing at 25-30kts upwind, and 35-45kts plus downwind.
The mid-afternoon session was summer sailing at its best - a beautiful 12kt sea breeze, bright sunshine, flat water, and plenty of white high-speed foiling spray.
These were perfect conditions for the foilers - where the AC75 gets close to its performance optimum of being able to sail at three or four times the speed of the wind, giving an apparent wind speed of 50kts plus across the deck, when sailing upwind.
That first taste of AC75 racing was followed up a week later with a session in the new Spark 5G Race Zone, located in the Team New Zealand base.
Centrepiece of the seven zones is the sailing simulator, which is the same piece of technology developed by Team New Zealand for the 2017 America's Cup, used to create the AC75 class concept, and now used by the sailing team for race training.
"Hopefully in this facility will teach people a lot more about what we are playing with," says Peter Burling, helmsman turned simulator coach for the day.
"What we've got here has probably got better graphics than we normally run. Spark has made a lot of effort to make it look nice, but the concept is very similar. While there's no substitute for time on the water the simulator allows you to get through so many more test iterations, and get more quickly to the pointy end of the development curve," Burling explained.
Design chief, Dan Bernasconi, who came to Team New Zealand from McLaren Racing says he has been working on simulators for the past ten years - both with the America's Cup and F1 teams.
"As a team, we've talked about the simulator a lot, but have never shown it before. We've done some work with Spark on it, but essentially it is the Team New Zealand simulator".
Mindful of team spies being able to walk in and check out the Kiwi AC75 design, Bernasconi makes the point that they have their first AC75 Te Aihe loaded, and not their latest race boat.
"The simulator itself is a development of the one used for the winning campaign in Bermuda. We're continually improving the physics, but it can be used for any class, and we used it for a lot of the AC75 Class development," he explains.
After losing five weeks through the Covid-19 lockdowns, Bernasconi says the team have now caught up to their original program.
"We were hit pretty hard by the lockdown, as everyone else was in New Zealand, but we were able to find more boatbuilders. By working full night shifts over the last couple of months, we have caught up and will be launching on schedule," he said.
Of the other teams, INEOS Team UK's second AC75 and race boat has arrived in Auckland and is being commissioned in the team's base on Wynyard Point. Luna Rossa's AC75 is en route from Bergamo, Italy and will be taken directly to the team's base on Hobson Wharf.