America’s Cup – There is now less than 18 months left before the six America’s Cup teams will begin racing in Bermuda in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers in late May of 2017.
And from there, it all happens very quickly – the number of teams will be whittled down in June 2017 to a single top challenger who will race the defending champion, Oracle Team USA, for the America’s Cup in June 2017.
Between now and then, there are at least five, and as many as seven, Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series events. For the top two teams on the leaderboard, points earned here will be converted into bonus points for the Qualifiers. In a very real sense, the #RaceToBermuda has started.
But alongside the racing this year, the teams are also in full design and development mode as they strive to come up with the fastest new America’s Cup Class boat on the planet. By the middle of the year, construction will begin, so that teams can launch the 50-footers a year from now.
Here’s a quick look at what’s ahead for each team:
Skipper Nathan Outteridge and his crew closed a challenging 2015 with a win in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Bermuda in October. Prior to that, the season had been less satisfying with poor results in both Portsmouth, and on home waters in Gothenburg.
But the team is now moving to Bermuda, to a new base that has come together in record time at Morgan’s Point on the Great Sound. Artemis Racing is sure to benefit from sailing in the America’s Cup venue, alongside SoftBank Team Japan and Oracle Team USA this year.
Look for the team to step up its performance on the race track – although skipper Nathan Outteridge and Iain ‘Goobs’ Jensen will be distracted during the first half of the year with their Olympic 49er campaign.
“We’re hoping to be out on the water in Bermuda in February, so we can get a couple of weeks in before the racing in Oman,” Outteridge said.
“Most of last season was focused on boat development, as opposed to racing, so we were happy to show improvement throughout the year. If we can get on the podium in each event this year, that would be a good result.”
Emirates Team New Zealand:
‘In our mind, 2016 is the year you win the Cup,” says Kiwi Chief Operating Officer Kevin Shoebridge. “The development, the sailing of the test boat, the development of the test boat and its systems, is crucial.”
To that end, Team New Zealand launched its test boat – an update of the platform Luna Rossa developed in 2014 – just before Christmas.
On the racing side, the Kiwis couldn’t be in a stronger position.
Skipper Glenn Ashby has the team at the top of the leaderboard, in no small part due to the dynamic duo of World Sailors of the Year Pete Burling and Blair Tuke.
The pair is the hot favorite for a gold medal in the 49er class in Rio, and while continued preparation for the Olympic Games will be a distraction, it is one the team should be able to manage.
The Kiwi team is sailing with a great deal of confidence at the moment, and until someone breaks that winning vibe, there is no reason to believe this streak at the top won’t continue.
“We still have an enormous amount of work to do this year,” skipper Ashby says. “It’s daunting actually, but to be honest everyone is really fired up and eager to attack the mountain we have to climb to get to the level we need to be at to win this America’s Cup.”
Groupama Team France:
The French team suffered scary moment when skipper Franck Cammas was injured during a training sail on a GC32 catamaran. Cammas badly injured his ankle, but is fortunately expected to make a full recovery after several months of rehab.
“And now I can spend more time on shore working with the designers and engineers on the new boat,” an always upbeat Cammas says.
While he may not be ready to race at the first event in Oman at the end of February, the team had already added Adam Minoprio as a second helmsman for training. The youngest skipper to ever win the World Match Racing Tour, Minoprio is a possible replacement, if necessary.
Groupama Team France closed 2015 at the bottom of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series standings, so getting some better results early this year will be very important if the team is bolster its credentials as a contender.
Land Rover BAR:
The British challenger started last year strongly with a win on home waters in Portsmouth, but fell back to third place on the leaderboard at the end of 2015, and finished the year with a bang – a December capsize resulted in a damaged wing to one of the team’s test platforms and meant an early start to Christmas holidays.
But the team has made a fast recovery, and was back training on the Solent in the first week of the New Year.
“We finished third in the World Series this year, up there with Emirates Team NZ and Oracle Team USA, and we would very much like to win it in 2016,” skipper Ben Ainslie wrote in the Telegraph newspaper. “It is difficult to see any one team dominating… but we want to be as consistent as possible. Points do carry forward to the qualifying series for the America’s Cup in Bermuda in 2017 so we are not just racing for pride.”
Like some of the other teams, Land Rover BAR will see one of its core sailors focused on an Olympic campaign – tactician Giles Scott – but this team has enough depth to withstand the short-term loss.
Oracle Team USA:
The defending champion finished the year in second place on the leaderboard, but isn’t satisfied with its racing performance.
“I was actually disappointed with last year,” said Tom Slingsby, helmsman and sailing team manager for Oracle Team USA. “Second is not good enough. We want to lead at every turn and win every race. So that’s our goal for the team this year.”
The team reconvened at its base at Dockyard in Bermuda this week following a long Christmas break excited to get back on the water.
“That was the longest break we’ll have in the campaign,” Slingsby said.
“It was important for everyone to come back refreshed and recharged and we can’t wait to get back on the water.”
They won’t have to wait long. Oracle Team USA is planning to sail late next week with its second AC45S test boat. And boat three is scheduled to sail for the first time early in February.
SoftBank Team Japan:
The newest challenger for the America’s Cup raced into the 2015 season without a moment to spare. Skipper Dean Barker announced his challenge, signed up some sailors and was on the water in the first Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series in Portsmouth within a few quick weeks. The team’s performance reflected this – some smart races and good finishes, but not enough consistency to challenge the leaders.
“Last year was a bit difficult as the only sailing we could do was at the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series events and even there our time on the water was quite restricted,” Barker said. “But we had a great session after the Bermuda event and it felt like we made some good progress… We know that we’re capable of getting on the podium so that’s our goal.”
Perhaps most exciting, the team base in Dockyard is well underway and SoftBank Team Japan plans to be on the water with its first AC45S test boat as early as next week. The boat was acquired from Oracle Team USA last year and has since been stripped down and reconfigured. Barker says new foils are being delivered this month and the team will be working on testing foil shapes and control systems ahead of locking in design elements for its new America’s Cup Class boat.