The countdown is ticking until the first match race of the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda - but before then the six teams have a busy schedule of qualifiers, new boats to launch and bases to open.

The first match race between the challenger and defenders Oracle Team USA starts on 17 June, 2017, just 200 days away. Between now and then each team has to launch their AC50 racing design, and compete in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup ’round robins’, which begin on 26 May. Land Rover BAR, Groupama France and Emirates Team New Zealand also need to set up full team bases in Bermuda. A pretty full to-do list for the next few months then.

New year, new boats

The teams are allowed to launch their AC50s no sooner than 150 days before the start of the Qualifiers, so by late December or early January we expect to see the new America’s Cup class AC50s launched in Bermuda as the build-up to the Cup in June begins in earnest. These new catamarans, although more than 20ft shorter than the boats used in the 2013 America’s Cup, are around twice as powerful and significantly more sophisticated. The technology and sailing techniques will be a real step up.

The new boats have cockpits in which crew can crouch down, reducing windage, and skippers will have controls around the wheels with which they can alter the angle of attack of the foils. There is limited freedom in the design of the boards, so teams have gone through considerable development to try to ensure the right selection for different wind conditions.

A new area of considerable development has been in the aerodynamics of the 77ft wingsail. The design rule determines size and shape, but not what happens to it under power – in other words, its bend and deflection.

For example, Land Rover BAR has been working with input from Jaguar Land Rover engineers, using finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software. They analyse the deformed shapes of the wing under different conditions, re-analyse the aerodynamic properties in CFD, then loop back to see how the new shape will distort, before re-checking how that new shape performs at every rib of the structure. This is the same technology Land Rover use to check how their cars will respond to high motorway speeds or rough roads. The software can analyse 80 million computational cells in each test.

“This is complex work in the fine grain of the wing’s performance,” comments Andy Claughton, Land Rover BAR’s chief technology officer. “We are even seeing how the Clysar – the film covering the wing – distorts, and how that impacts the speed of the boat.”

By the time teams are racing against each other in the qualifiers, their boats will be sailing at three times the speed of the wind – approximately 3.5 tonnes of machine travelling at 85kph. They will be able to foil in six knots of true wind, making around 20 knots.


Land Rover BAR are applying techniques used in the motoring industry to their America’s Cup design program ©Land Rover BAR


Bonus points carried to Bermuda

Sir Ben Ainslie’s British challenging team Land Rover BAR sealed the America’s Cup World Series overall win when they won the final event of the series, held in Fukuoka, Japan in November. Land Rover BAR won its fourth World Series event with a race to spare, which also earned the team the overall World Series victory. This gives the British team a two-point advantage heading into the next round robin stage. The defender, Oracle Team USA, finished second in the World Series overall, and also earned one bonus point.

So, what happens next? All six teams, including the defender, Oracle Team USA, now race each other twice in the round robin Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers, which start on 26 May, 2017 in Bermuda. The last placed team is eliminated at the end of this stage, while the remaining four challengers compete for the right to contest the Cup in the semi-finals and final of the Louis Vuitton Challenger Playoffs.

Oracle Team USA steps aside at this playoff stage until the America’s Cup match – gaining time to refine its AC50, having been able to ‘test’ its design against the Challengers’ (and being allowed in the rule to build two boats compared to each challenger’s one).

To complicate things further, another bonus point is up for grabs in the round robin – if the winner of the round robin goes on to reach the America’s Cup match, they start with a one point lead against the Defender. If Oracle Team USA wins the round robin, they too start the Cup match with a one point advantage. If the team that wins the round robin doesn’t reach the final match, then the Cup match (best of 13 races) will start with a clean slate.


The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Qualifiers and Playoffs


Rapid expansion

Land Rover BAR team principal Sir Ben Ainslie recently gave an interesting insight into the scale of the project to form a British challenging team, commenting: “I think the big thing with this team is just how incredibly quickly it’s grown in the three years since we decided to try and build an organisation and a team based on the challenge of winning the America’s Cup.

“In terms of the pressures of it, the size of the organisation, yes, there’s more expectation because of what we’ve created, and the results in the World Series have helped to grow those expectations.

“At the same time, because of what we have now built we have created something that has longevity. Through growing a bigger organisation – with the partners that we have – we have now manufactured a position where we can honestly say that the team, whether we win or not next year, are going to be in a position to keep going until we do get the job done.”

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Land Rover BAR skippered by Sir Ben Ainslie won the Louis Vuitton Americas Cup World Series overall when they took first place in Japan earlier this month