With all six teams now in Bermuda the rumour mill is beginning to churn with talk of a second team looking at ride-on grinding.
Emirates Team New Zealand is making the most of its status as the dark horse of this America’s Cup. As I write, the Kiwi AC50 has not long emerged out of the nose cone of the Emirates cargo plane that delivered its precious payload from Auckland to Bermuda.
While the Kiwis are miffed to have missed out on the practice racing sessions that have already taken place, skipper Glenn Ashby and his crew are looking forward to getting stuck in and seeing where the boat’s speed slots in against the other five already training on the Great Sound.
Currently Artemis Racing looks to be the form boat, having won all nine of its races from the windy practice session in mid-April, including four wins against Oracle. Behind the Swedes were Oracle Team USA, which beat all the others.
SoftBank Team Japan lost five races but beat Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France once apiece. The Brits raced each team once, but beat only the French, who won none of their matches.
It’s fortunate for Ben Ainslie and Franck Cammas that so much practice competition has already taken place, giving the designers a sense of where the changes need to come in the final month before battle begins.
What we don’t know is how much each team is revealing of its best hand, how much sandbagging is going on. Not very much, I suspect. This world of high-speed foiling is still very new, and every day lining up against a rival is a huge learning curve, too valuable too waste on playing mind games.
There is also the question of what design changes will come out of the final foil packages that the teams bring out for the Cup proper. It’s all about the trade-off between straight-line speed and creating sufficient lift to keep the boat flying through the turns and the light-wind patches.
The weather forecasters will be earning their crust like never before, because teams will want to feel confident about choosing their light/medium or their medium/heavy foil set. It’s going to be as crucial as selecting the right set of tyres for a Formula One car on an intermittently rainy day.
As ever, it’s those crafty Kiwis keeping the rest guessing, with a rumour that the New Zealanders are working on one foil set that will carry them through the wind range and removing that morning weather forecasting headache. At what cost to top-end speed you’d have to wonder? Even the Kiwis can’t change the laws of physics.
The grinders-on-bikes option taken by Emirates Team New Zealand continues to cause a stir, with the rumour mill suggesting that Oracle Team USA might be making a late play to switch out of traditional pedestals and onto saddles and pedals instead.
Bearing in mind just what the Americans achieved in that 36-hour window back in 2013, when Oracle managed to fly every available composite boatbuilder up from New Zealand to San Francisco and put the AC72 through extensive overnight surgery halfway through the 34th Cup, maybe swapping out some grinding pedestals for eight bicycle frames doesn’t seem such a big deal.
America’s Cup 34: How Oracle Won in San Francisco
But technical challenges aside, surely even the mighty resources of the American-Australians are incapable of turning its finely-honed upper-body musclemen into Olympic-standard cyclists in the space of six weeks or so.
While we wait to see the New Zealanders join in with the pre-event competition on the water, there has already been a shoreside contest between all six teams. This was the #EatLionfish Chefs’ Throwdown, an event organised by 11th Hour Racing to help raise awareness of the issue of lionfish, said to be a serious threat to marine habitats in Bermuda.
Celebrity chefs from the host nations of each Cup team did battle to conjure up the best lionfish dish, and it was a British victory for Chris Kenny, head chef at Necker Island, who won $20,000 of prize money for charity, half of it going to Land Rover BAR’s 1851 Trust.
The lionfish challenge is one example of the Cup displaying more of a social and environmental conscience. It also shows that the teams are getting on with each other. But how long will the entente cordiale remain? As the pressure comes on, chances are that things will get a bit more tetchy.