The New Zealand media were fairly guarded in their comments on the America's Cup announcement in Valencia, on Monday night (NZT), taking their lead from a very cool response from Emirates Team NZ CEO Grant Dalton
The item was not the lead on the TV sports news on either channel, with both featuring interviews with Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton. TVNZ also interviewed ETNZ skipper Dean Barker. While TV3 headed for Warkworth and scored a first look at the new AC45's under construction.
As he opened his press conference in Valencia early yesterday morning, Coutts, BMW Oracle's chief executive, proclaimed 'regeneration is on the agenda'. As part of his sweeping changes which promise to bring the staid old regatta in to the 21st century, the Kiwi sailing great announced the event will be sailed in swift 72ft (22m) wing-powered catamarans.
But there was little of the announcement that came as a surprise to Dalton.
While BMW Oracle claimed the design consultation process was completely open, there was really no question in Dalton's mind that the next regatta would be held in multihulls.
Dalton said the official challenger of record, Mascalzone Latino, had not even spoken to any of the challengers who they are supposedly representing.
'I'm not aware of any conversation any team has had with Mascalzone Latino, or even know how to get hold of them,' he said. 'They're just a puppet.'
Coutts said the change to a wing-powered catamaran would lead to 'racing that meets the expectations of the Facebook generation, not the Flintstones generation'.
Wing sails are more aerodynamically efficient than sails made of flexible material, although they have barely been tried on sailing boats.
BMW Oracle introduced the radical wing-sail design in their 90ft (27.4m) trimaran that blitzed Swiss syndicate Alinghi in the deed of gift challenge in February, returning the oldest trophy in international sports to the US for the first time in 15 years.
Coutts is clearly enamoured by their higher performance, which he believes will be vital to create interest. The team is keen to expand the sport's popularity, particularly with younger generations, and want to make the event more television-friendly.
Dalton said it probably also helps that the defender is most experienced with this technology.
'If the America's Cup was tomorrow, [Oracle] would win. They are ahead in that area at the moment, you'd be blind if you thought any different.'
Still, Dalton said Emirates Team New Zealand are not 'running scared' from the challenge. He is confident that if they decide to mount a challenge - and at this stage it would only be financial reasons that hold them back - they have the skills to be successful.
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Peter Lester: Team NZ have ability to be competitive in new multihulls
From Stuff.co.nz (Fairfax):
Team New Zealand expect to mount a challenge at the next America's Cup, but will make a final decision after studying the details of the changes announced today to the yachting regatta.
New holders Oracle Racing of the United States and an Italian syndicate representing the challengers confirmed that the next event would be in 2013 and be sailed in AC72s, a new class of 72-foot catamaran with a wing sail.
The venue will be decided later this year.
Team NZ managing director Grant Dalton said his syndicate were encouraged by the 2013 date rather than the other suggested possibility of 2014.
The last multi-team event was in 2007, before a bitter court battle between Oracle and then-holders Alinghi of Switzerland led to a head-to-head battle in giant multihulls this year from which other challengers were locked out.
As to where Team NZ stood at the moment, Dalton said they would need time to consider the protocol unveiled today and consult with other challengers to see if it created a fair playing field.
'We are in there now in the America's Cup,' he said.
'We need to consider where we sit in terms of our ability to win.'
Dalton said the budget was a consideration, but he had no doubts in Team NZ's ability to design, build and sail an AC72.
From NZ Herald Editorial on the America's Cup announcement:
The selection of AC72s also goes back on an undertaking by Larry Ellison, of BMW Oracle, and Ernesto Bertarelli, of Alinghi, that there would be a return to a monohull format after their multihull face-off in February.
It appeared the two billionaires, having sullied the image of the America's Cup with their bickering, had recognised extravagance must be reined in and the essence of the event rediscovered.
But having canvassed two classes of multihulls and a monohull class of similar dimensions to the 90-footers that featured in the 2007 America's Cup, Ellison has opted for the smaller of the multihulls.
Undoubtedly, this is a gamble. Many who cherish the grace and tradition of the event will have little appetite for catamaran racing. All will rest on its appeal to younger people, who Coutts believes will thrill to 'the coolest and fastest boats in the world'.
The racing will be shorter, sharper and is intended to be more spectacular. Television appeal will be added if BMW Oracle hosts the series in San Francisco, where the backdrop includes Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
A taste of such racing was provided when BMW Oracle's monster trimaran, complete with a radical wing sail, trounced Alinghi's catamaran off Valencia.
But if this held any fascination at all, it was mostly because it seemed an oddity. What stood out was the high level of technology brought to the contest by BMW Oracle, a level which could not be matched by the Swiss.
That, in itself, suggests another worry about the new format.
Coutts says 'good monohull teams can become good multihull teams if they wish'. The response of Team New Zealand, for one, suggests some are not necessarily convinced of this.
'We need to consider where we sit in terms of our ability to win,' said managing director Grant Dalton. While BMW Oracle and Alinghi were having their private scrap, Team NZ continued racing in monohulls.
It will have to move quickly if it wishes to compete in an entirely different breed of boat in 2013.
Dalton says he has no doubt about Team NZ's ability to design, build and sail an AC72. Whether it can be of a technological standard that makes it competitive is another matter.
Coutts may be right that change is necessary to move the America's Cup into the 21st century, and to recapture the popular imagination. But this is a seismic shift in an event that has stuck close to its origins for most of the time since the first race was sailed in 1851.
New Zealanders of all ages who were gripped by the event, like Australians before them, never thought of it as antediluvian. If Coutts is wrong, the recent tarnishing will not only be accentuated, it will be terminal.