Josh Junior has revealed the New Zealand Sail GP team has copied the Aussies in a bid to beat them and claims despite finishing fifth last season, the Kiwi side has a target on its back ahead of season three starting this weekend in Bermuda.
The Peter Burling-helmed F50 catamaran Amokura had a difficult debut season highlighted by constant crew changes due to the Tokyo Olympics and inconsistent results. Tom Slingsby and his Australian crew retained their title after a thrilling final regatta in San Francisco in March.
Season three of the foiling catamaran circuit has been expanded to include rounds in Singapore and Dubai with an additional round likely, while there are two additional nations, Switzerland and Canada, bringing the number of teams on the start line to 10.
Junior returns to the New Zealand team after missing the season finale in San Francisco in March to undergo minor knee surgery after struggling since the Olympics.
He says the New Zealand team were in "catch-up mode throughout season two and never quite got there".
But with additions to the team like sailing coach Ray Davies from Team New Zealand, they've got a great place to start from – and Junior says they are definitely looking to take a leaf out of the Aussies.
"You just need to chip away and have plenty of good races," Junior said. "I think the cool thing about this circuit is that all the information and all the data from every boat is shared with everyone so you can go back and look at what the Aussies were doing and how they were making the boat go so fast. So we've spent a lot of time trying to analyse them and copy them, and then hopefully, take it to another level."
Despite playing second fiddle to the likes of Slingsby, the Ben Ainslie-skippered British boat and the Americans led by Jimmy Spithill, Junior insists it's the Kiwis who everyone still wants to beat.
"All the other teams really want to beat us because we won the America's Cup, though now we're in even boats, they think that's a good chance to try and get one up over us. So there are definitely a few people wanting to make sure they're ahead of us. But we are going to try to stop that this season and try to get a few wins on the board and prove that we're good enough."
Junior himself is 100 per cent fit again after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, suffered while sailing in the Finn class in Tokyo.
"I just took about six weeks on crutches with a straight leg and then slowly but surely have got it moving again.
"I had been dealing with it for six months, but the meniscus between your knee sort of attaches at the back and it kept flipping into my knee, and then my leg would get locked up for a while. So I was having that every day and it was getting pretty annoying."
The season-opening regatta on Sunday and Monday in the Great Sound in Bermuda is the only time crews get to spend more than two practice days on the boat. There are five training days in Bermuda and Junior says the preparation time is invaluable.
"Because the racing is so short, 10 minutes long, a lot of it is about how you manoeuvre the boat. The more tricky manoeuvres that you can pull off, the better you can do and the better tactical decisions you can make."
Junior says having a more stable team and not chopping and changing the crew too much will also enhance their prospects this season.
"If we can keep that consistency up and keep the same people in the same roles every time we go out, we get better. It's a pretty tricky circuit, because you only get two days practice before each event. So it's not like you've got a month to work on things, you've kind of got two days, and then you've got to race and perform.
"Then you have three weeks where you don't race and then you're back into it again. So you got to try and make the most of every opportunity and keeping that same crew and moving forward through the seasons should be a good advantage."
Junior also revealed that Liv Mackay is taking a greater leadership role on board Amakura with the experience gained helming the Live Ocean New Zealand team in the ETF26 catamaran Grand Prix circuit in Europe.
"She's a huge part of our team now. She's really grown into the role and we call her the 'helm assist' because out of all the manoeuvres she's steering and she talks about a lot of the other boats on the racecourse and really helps paint that picture for Pete."