The America's Cup starts on the 12 October 2024, with 1 year to go, what do we know about the teams and what did we learn from the Preliminary Regatta?
There is now just 1 year to go until the America’s Cup proper kicks off in Barcelona, where Emirates Team New Zealand will take on the winner of the challengers selection series to fight for the ultimate prize in sailing, the America’s Cup. It has been a long time since we last saw cup teams racing, but the Preliminary Regatta last month has served as something of a line in the sand for fans, who can now start to get excited about the build up to the competition.
With this in mind, the sight of America’s Cup sailors out of their aerodynamically sleek cockpits hanging off shrouds and standing on the bow of their AC40s trying to get boats moving in displacement mode was probably not the image that the organisers had hoped for after racing in the first America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta came to a close over the weekend of 14-16th September. But it is the image many viewers will remember as the racing was marred by poor conditions.
Although racing was cancelled on day one due to no wind, was adversely affected on day two for the same reason and was forced to finish early on day three, there was still some thrilling action on the race course for those patient enough to keep watching through the lulls (both figuratively and literally).
What did we learn from the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta?
The simplest answer to this question is ‘not very much at all’. How teams perform in their one-design AC40 foilers bears very little resemblance to how they might perform at the America’s Cup proper in late 2024, when they will be racing their AC75 America’s Cup yachts which have a much more open class rule and which teams are developing behind the scenes right now.
They have spent plenty of time sailing their AC40 – of which they now have two. Even if the team felt they came into the race a bit “underprepared” as Goodison put it as the sailors had been focussed on sailing against, not with, each other.
It may be a small surprise that Emirates Team New Zealand with the three generational talents of Peter Burling, Nathan Outteridge and Blair Tuke onboard did not win the regatta. They have also been sailing plenty in their two AC40s, but at least the Preliminary Regatta showed the all-powerful Kiwi team can be beaten.
A much bigger surprise, however, was the performance of the French Orient Express Racing Team who picked up third place having only launched their single AC40 in August this year, weeks before the event began.
However, it is interesting to note that with no other test platform on the water and no AC75 either, this team spent a significant amount of time working on an AC40 simulator, so they are not quite as unfamiliar with the platform as their launch date might suggest.
This move to simulator time is a theme we have seen in recent America’s Cup as teams develop computer platforms to help with the design process, but we’ve not often seen them used for upskilling in pure sailing skills terms.
For their part INEOS stated their disappointment with the team’s Giles Scott admitting they should have done better despite their limited time sailing an AC40.
Sandwiched between these two were Alinghi Red Bull Racing, who have put a great deal of time and effort into updating and sailing the AC75 they purchased from Emirates Team New Zealand to better understand the platform while they design another boat for the 2024 America’s Cup.
America’s Cup weather worries?
One thing that can be learned from the first America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta are the conditions likely to be experienced at the start of the next America’s Cup – or at least the challenger series, which will take place at a similar time 50 miles up the coast in Barcelona.
The timing of this event firmly puts it just ahead of the windiest winter season, with the lightest wind month being August and the windiest month typically around January. As such the spectacle of foiling boats struggling to make it round a race course might well be something we see some of in the early parts of the challenger series – and the Youth and Women’s AC both set to use AC40s and both scheduled ahead of the AC itself.
With the America’s Cup itself taking place in October, winds should in theory be a little stronger. It is worth noting that as Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand will not need to compete in any of the racing ahead of the Cup itself, and so could well see a significant advantage from not needing to focus so hard on very-light wind performance.
Of course, this is sailing and everyone is at the mercy of the elements to some extent.
Test platforms and training
Every team entered into the 2024 America’s Cup needs to purchase a one-design foiling AC40 for racing in the Preliminary Regattas and to ensure they can enter teams into both the Women’s and Youth America’s Cups (both of which will use AC40s).
All teams set to take part in the 37th America’s Cup now have AC40s on the water, however, some have had them on the water longer than others, and some have two out on the water sailing.
Although the AC40 is a one-design class and must adhere to strict rules for the Preliminary Regattas and the Youth and Women’s AC, outside of these events they are allowed to be modified in order to conduct testing ahead of the launch of team’s single allowed AC75 America’s Cup boat – though they must be able to be returned to their one-design configuration for racing.
The French Orient Express Racing Team were the last team to enter this America’s Cup and were also the last to get an AC40 – only launching it in mid-August. And as such hold the difficult duel position as both last team to enter the Cup and the team with the least time on the water. But an impressive showing in the America’s Cup Preliminary regatta at least shows they have the sailing chops to mix it with the rest of the field.
By contrast, Defenders of the America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand were the first to launch an AC40 back in 2022 and were the first to conduct two-boat testing once their second AC40 was launched. Neither of these outcomes are a surprise, with a single builder of AC40s, teams were allocated a build slot based on their order of entry to the 37th America’s Cup.
In terms of boat launches, teams have taken a number of different approaches. With a wait for AC40 delivery and time of the essence (as ever in the AC), some teams chose to build their own training boats.
Boat terminology has become a little confusing, but test platforms are generally referred to as LEQ12s (short for ‘Less or Equal to 12m’ the parameters for a test platform as defined by the America’s Cup rules, to limit teams building platforms too similar in size to an AC75).
The two teams which have chosen this route are Challenger of Record, INEOS Britannia and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. To add a little more confusion to the nomenclature, Luna Rossa refer to their boat as simply LEQ12 while the Brits have named their ‘LEQ12’ T6. Both of these were launched in late 2022.
For both of these teams, their LEQ12 has been the primary test platform, with both also adding AC40s to their roster of boats following the launch of their LEQ12 test platforms.
To further confuse the issue, if teams take an AC40 out of one-design configuration that too becomes (officially) an LEQ12. This is because there are limits on the number of parts any team can design and own. So an LEQ12 can have a certain number of test foil shapes (for example) and this same rule applies to foils on a non-one-design AC40.
In addition to AC40s and LEQ12 test boats, teams are also able to sail their AC75s from the 36th America’s Cup, though with limitations on when they can be sailed. These limitations vary somewhat with teams that took part in the last America’s Cup, who already have AC75s, more restricted than new entries, who were able to purchase an AC75 and sail it earlier in the cycle.
Alinghi Red Bull Racing are a new entrant in this Cup cycle and they purchased Emirates Team New Zealand’s first AC75 from the 2021 Cup cycle and relaunched it in August 2022 immediately getting some time on the foiling monohull under their belts. They have since relaunched once again after adding some further developments.
They have split their time between AC75 sailing and AC40 sailing, once their own one-design was delivered, and have recently been two-boat tuning with the delivery of their second AC40.
Sailing ‘legacy’ AC75s will be a key part of the build up to the next America’s Cup, with teams only allowed to build one new AC75 this time around (two were permitted for the 2021 Cup).
“The rule that you can only build one AC75 this campaign is to save cost, but it’s a big change from the America’s Cup that I grew up with, in the old IACC class monohulls,” explained Jeff Causey, INEOS Britannia’s boat operations manager. “Back then, it was all about two-boat testing. Every team that could afford to designed and built two boats, and then lined them up against each other for countless hours of side-by-side tuning out on the water. We don’t have that available to us this time.”
The USA flagged team, American Magic has taken a similar approach to Alinghi Red Bull Racing, getting plenty of time out on the water onboard their AC75 from their base in Pensacola and sailing their first AC40 there too, before moving out to Barcelona earlier this year where they got their hands on their second AC40 allowing them to get some two boat testing and training under their belts.
It should be noted that the AC75 rules have been slightly tweaked for this edition with ‘cyclors‘ once again allowed and some changes to the foil arms and sail control systems – among other tweaks, such as reduced crew numbers. And we have seen teams making changes to their legacy AC75s to reflect this, with many teams opting for cyclors at this early stage.
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