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Gladwell's Line - For whom will the America's Cup bell first toll?

by Richard Gladwell, NZ on 1 May 2017
Artemis Racing - Practice sessions in Bermuda, April 2017 Sander van der Borch / Artemis Racing
One of the truisms of the America's Cup is that it is largely a time management exercise.

In other words, the Cup is a challenge to come up with the fastest boat, and best-performed team in a set amount of time. That precious commodity is fast running out for several teams.

With Practice Session 4 just concluded, in Bermuda some very clear trends emerging - and particularly so when the results of the Practice Sessions 1,3 and 4 are combined and considered, in the context of a win-loss record/percentage. The number of races sailed by each team also tells us something about their current emphasis.

From what has been seen to date, the America's Cup can be expected to change hands at the end of June.

With the exception of Emirates Team New Zealand who has raced only one day in Bermuda, the same teams are winning when paired with a particular opponent. There is a repetitive pattern emerging.

Most, if not all teams have had issues to varying degrees with daggerboards, prompting a series of Protocol changes, and it is probable that most were not racing with their preferred set of foils and that may change the America's Cup paradigm. But a rising tide lifts all boats - and it may well be that all teams improve, but the overall win/loss pattern doesn't change.

Artemis Racing has sailed 29 races for 24 wins and 5 losses across the three series. That gives her an 83% win record. The Swedish team didn't have a good day on the first day of Practice Session 1, but after that started taking wins off Oracle Team USA, and looks to have the measure of the America's Cup Defender. The Swedish team have been sailing with a set of daggerboards which are believed to be optimised for the mid to upper wind limit - and with the exception of the final day of Practice Session 4, the sailing has mostly taken place in this wind range.

Against the Defender, Artemis Racing have won seven races in a row, plus another two when Oracle Team USA withdrew with reliability issues. That's a 7-0 or a 9-0 win/loss sequence - depending on how you score the game.

The Swedes win/loss percentage climbs to an impressive 85% if Race 15 in Practice Session 4 is discounted - after Artemis gave Emirates Team NZ a easy win by starting 24 secs late.

Oracle Team USA
started with a hiss and roar, clocking up a nine win and two loss record in the first series. The wheels started to fall off in the third Practice session - and on the basis of the last two Practice Sessions, OTUSA has a 52% (9 win - 8 loss) record. Across the Series 1,3,4 Oracle Team USA's win percentage improves to 64% - still well down on Artemis Racing. Disturbingly the US team was forced to pull out of two races in Practice Series 4. OTUSA's win percentage is skewed by the outstanding results from Series 1. It has been downhill from there.

Given the fact that the team representing Golden Gate YC has a very significant arsenal of test platform yachts (believed to be four), plus this is their third campaign using wingsailed multihull technology, it would be expected that they should have been able to maintain a win percentage at the level they achieved in the first Round. The current reality is that OTUSA is getting worse rather than better as the Practice Sessions have progressed, and in the latest, we are seeing reliability issues come into play.

Oracle Team USA have put in the time on the water, with 28 races, but aren't improving. Again it is not known whether they are using racing daggerboards and rudders, or if those are still in the shed.

A significant mitigating factor in Oracle Team USA's favour and future is their ability to recover and stage a comeback. Many of the US team are Australian sailors who have been bought up on the Australia II culture of never conceding defeat against hopeless odds. It's just not in their DNA. OTUSA COO Grant Simmer, navigator aboard Australia II and puts an even sharper edge on an Okker culture of extreme self-confidence, and their innate ability to think very short-term to turnaround a game that is hanging on Match-Point.

Who else but an Aussie would tell a media conference that he was confident of being able to win from being 8-1 down in a first to nine series?

Softbank Team Japan have sailed 22 races across the three substantive series for a 36% win record. That is a measure of how far they are behind the top two teams. The Japanese team lost seven races in the fourth round, but between Sessions 3 and 4 they seem to have got their reliability issues somewhat sorted. Given their close working relationship with Oracle Team USA, it would be expected that they would have been better placed. For sure they are a new team, and a late starter, but they do have a very experienced sailing team and with some good people on the design side. Again it is not known what their situation is with daggerboards and whether those they are using the real deal or a substitute set.

Softbank Team Japan will be encouraged by their win over Emirates Team New Zealand and also Oracle Team USA on the final day of Practice Session 4, which puts a better light on their win/loss percentage.

While all teams will claim that they have more speed developments to come, the fact is that no team is going to stop developing. The task of the Japanese is not just to close the gap, but actually get past teams and start beating Oracle Team USA and Artemis Racing on a regular basis. With just over three weeks remaining until the start of the Qualifiers, time is becoming far more important than dollars

Land Rover BAR
have serious issues. With only a 23% win record. Skipper Ben Ainslie readily concedes that the British team have a lot of work ahead of them in the last month. Clearly, they are chasing speed improvement rather than picking up match race practice. While the Portsmouth-based team has sailed 17 races in the three series, they only contested two races in the fourth Practice session which lasted four days. That's a far cry from the ten races they contested in the first Practice Session - but they were able to only win two races in that opening series.

Groupama Team France are lowest on a 17% win percentage out of 17 races sailed. The scoresheet shows they have three wins to their credit - but two of those came from the fourth Practice Session - and were the result of sail-overs when their opponents withdrew because after break-downs.

Again it is hard to see the French, for all their multihull expertise being able to close the gap in just over three weeks, unless they can pull a very big rabbit out of the hat.

Emirates Team New Zealand
are still an unknown quantity, having been scheduled to sail four races, they pulled out of one race with gear failure and lost the other to Softbank Team Japan.

The fancied Kiwi team did win two races - one against the top of the table team, Artemis Racing and the other against the slowly improving French.

The win against Artemis Racing would normally have been cause for encouragement, except that Emirates Team NZ was given a 24-second head start by the Swedish who elected by design or default, not to contest the pre-start. At the finish of the race, the Kiwis were able to extend that margin several-fold - which can be explained by a number of factors. A defeat by the Swedes given that head start would have been cause for real concern.

Emirates Team New Zealand sailed just four races - well shy of the 17 sailed by Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France, and the 20 plus races sailed by the other three teams. The Kiwi team may have put in the long hours at home, but are short of a gallop, that only work in a true racing environment can bring.

Having been sailing for just a week - most of it being in recommissioning the AC50, the team does have a 50% win record, which has them in third place on the points table for Sessions 1,3 and 4.

While it might still be early days in the 35th America's Cup, the fact is that one of the teams will be packing up to go home after Sunday, June 4, followed four days later by two others.

Time is already a very scarce commodity in the 35th America's Cup, and is now more important than money.

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