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Cup Critiqued: First look at Barcelona as a venue .. Youth and Womens Worlds .. Cup budget cap?

by Richard Gladwell/ 4 Oct 05:30 PDT 26 September 2022
Alinghi Red Bull Racing training off Barcelona - September 2022 © Alinghi Red Bull Racing

Over the past week, we have gazed into the twin universes of the AC75 and AC40.

The AC75 insight was more one of getting a first look at Barcelona as a venue, rather than anything new of the America's Cup Class. The jury is still out on the AC40 - but so far it looks very good indeed.

There is no doubt that Alinghi Red Bull Racing is improving with each outing. Just how much is a little hard to tell, as the Swiss are mostly still a very new AC75 crew, and maybe are not at too different a stage than Emirates Team New Zealand were when they started sailing the same boat in Auckland, soon after it was launched in early September 2019.

The Kiwis had their moments of excitement and learned early on that sailing AC75s in a big sea-state wasn't a good idea.

Like Alinghi Red Bull Racing, they sailed with different wing foils on each side - which is essential for testing to avoid an excessive burn rate of the permitted maximums of new foil wings or flaps. However, differences in setup from one tack to the other don't make it any easier for a crew to grips with a new boat type.

The Kiwis are in another league from the Swiss, with the ETNZ crew being tasked with finding the AC40's limits, while it is still in its one-design mode.

The AC40 will be used by Youth and Womens crews as they build into their respective America's Cup regattas, which get under way on September 26, 2024.

The AC40 will also be used by the America's Cup teams for in-house race training and being a test boat. Of course, the Challenger teams are more than capable of working through any gremlins the AC40 may have. From what we have seen over the last couple of weeks, there aren't too many issues, and we're expecting to see the first AC40 repurposed in the near future by ETNZ as a test boat.

So far, the AC40 has capsized twice. Add that to the three AC75 capsizes (that we know about), and the Kiwis are well ahead in the Capsize Cup.

The learnings from the first AC40 tip-over - in a near calm - is that the AC40 is probably a little more tender than some would have expected.

It must be remembered that the AC40 is half the size of an AC75 but is only a third of the weight.

And from the second capsize - which evolved from a face-plant, pitch-pole or nose-dive, call it what you will - we know the AC40, like the AC75, just floats high and lies with its mast tip in the water waiting to be towed upright.

To date, none of the AC40/75 capsizes has resulted in the boat's fully inverted. Even with American Magic's on Day 3 of the Prada Cup, the holed AC75 just lay on its side but lower in the water.

Even though two of the AC40 crew will get caught on the leeward side and under the mainsail, it is evident from the photos that the crew can kick free of their cockpit and swim.

The upside is that the AC40 looks well designed and built and should be able to take everything the Youth and Women teams throw at it and more. Having clocked 40kts on its second outing and 45kts a couple of sessions later, Burling, Tuke, Outteridge and friends aren't spending the four and five-hour test sessions in cruise mode.

Barcelona weather

In 24 months, we will be at the sharp end of the next America's Cup, with the 37th Match set down for October 2024.

The weather pattern this month and again in October 2023 will hint at the winds we can expect for the Challenger Final and the Match itself.

So far, it has been a little erratic, with light to no wind in the morning, freshening late in the day. Most will recall that the first six race days scheduled for the Challenger Selection Series in the 2007 America's Cup - were lost due to light winds.

However, the more significant concern with foiling monohulls is the sea-state off Barcelona. All the venues used since the foiling era of the America's Cup began - have been near land-locked. The Catalonian coast is touted in the tourist brochures as having great surf beaches.

San Francisco, Bermuda and Auckland's Waitemata Harbour and inner Hauraki Gulf were nearly fully enclosed, and the racing took place on flattish water with no ocean swell.

San Francisco had its moments around the Golden Gate, in a wind against tide situation, which resulted in two AC72s being wrecked, and a third doing a nose-dive, washing two crew members overboard in the process. However, those were the early days of foiling mono and multihulls, and a lot has been learned since.

In the 2021 Prada Cup and America's Cup, the one day with something of a swell and minor chop was Day 3 of the Prada Cup when the wind flicked in from the northwest across a north-easterly swell. When the wind changed mid-race, the AC75s struggled with the sea state, but the race was abandoned and restarted, so the fresh breeze flattened off the sea state. The capsize of American Magic later in the afternoon was nothing to do with the sea state.

Coping with swells and an awkward sea-state has been an integral part of yacht racing. A conventional monohull would bash through a cross or head swell at maybe 10-11kts rather than do as the foilers and attack it head on at 35kts.

The issue for large foiling yachts is that they are holding a level "flight" using their main foils on their foils.

Their flight level is similar to that of a very low-flying aircraft and doesn't follow the contours of the sea swell. If high enough, the wave's peak will hit the underside of the foiler and often buries the main foil arms, adding to drag and slowing the boat to the point where it can't foil.

The rudder, which tries to keep some semblance of fore and aft trim, is at risk of breaking free of the surface in the hollow of a swell, and when it does, the effect is like the tail dropping off an aircraft.

In the two SailGP events we have seen sailed in the Mediterranean, a cross sea and swell reverberating off the seawall caused some spectacular moments for the F50 wingsailed foiling catamarans.

As mentioned, the Catalonian coast is a renowned surf spot. You can get a daily surf and wind direction report by clicking here. Some days have a low swell - and the AC40s and 75s will have no problems.

The swell will be a factor in AC75 performance in Barcelona - something the designers, simulators and sailors will have to consider, and may well determine the outcome of the Cup. In the interim, fans should look carefully at the sea state in videos and still images, and remember that the camera lens has the effect of flattening waves by about 50%.

In Barcelona 2024, we will likely see a lot more focus on ride height in anything other than flat water. The Sea will punish flight height control errors very quickly. If the same race management practice is followed, in Barcelona, as in Auckland after Patriot's capsize, the race will be stopped and awarded to the survivor in the event of a capsize/nose-dive.

Youth and Womens America's Cup Regattas

The Notice of Race is out for the Womens and Youth America's Cups.

The event is open to entries associated with America's Cup teams and other entries from nations that don't have America's Cup teams. But only one entry per country is permitted to enter.

Aside from the Cup teams, so far, only Spain has publicly indicated they will be making an entry and currently are alone on the "Invited Teams" side of the draw. The idea is that the 'Invited Teams" will compete in their qualifying series, and the America's Cup teams will do the same - with the top teams from each side of the ladder coming up against each other in the Semis and Finals.

Those Yacht Clubs who wish to become an invited team lodge their Expression of Interest with America's Cup Event Ltd, which will make a selection if there is more than one entry per nation. There is also the provision for teams from "Emerging Nations" to have a multi-national crew.

The entry fees are structured to encourage Youth and Womens Teams, with a team entering both events getting a 25% reduction on what would have been the combined Entry Fee of E90,000. It is not a cheap event with Entry Fees, Insurance contribution and Branding contribution totalling E107,500 plus lodging a Damage Bond of E25,000 before the regatta.

On top of that, there are travel expenses, accommodation and any simulator time a team think they need before the regatta.

The America's Cup teams provide the AC40s. Time is allowed for four-morning practice sessions, one-afternoon practice session and one all-day practice session for Invited teams, with just one morning of practice for AC Teams. The day before racing starts is taken for boat maintenance.

There are nine races in the Qualifying Series for each group, followed by a final series of four races, and for the Youth series, a winner takes all Match race to be sailed between the two Challenger Final races scheduled for Wednesday, October 3.

The Womens America's Cup follows on after the Youth Series, starting on October 3, and concludes with their single Match Race to determine the winner being sailed between the two America's Cup Match races on October 16. So no shortage of exposure for those teams and the Women's event takes place in Prime Time.

Budget caps?

The cost of America's Cup campaigns has long been a vexed issue - but big money is an intrinsic part of the Cup, which was intended as an event for the sailing proletariat.

Implementing some form of budget cap is one of the solutions often put forward to pull the America's Cup out of its malaise, following the New York Supreme Court case of 2007-2010, is. That has been done in several sports. It is a grand theory. However, budget or salary cap breaches often have destructive consequences - which have a devastating hit not only in the team involved but also don't show the event, competition or sport in a good light - and side swipes sponsors as well.

On Wednesday, the Federation International de l'Automobile, the governing body of F1 Grand Prix racing, are due to announce the outcome of its audits for the 2021 season.

F1 has a shrinking budget cap for teams, which took effect in 2021 for all the usual reasons cited for a cap in the America's Cup - intended to make making the sport financially sustainable, giving more teams a chance of success and delivering a more competitive season, in the ten team, 20 car event.

The rub comes with the fact that F1 is now in the 2022 season, Compliance Certificates are about to be issued, or otherwise for the 2021 season. Any penalties applied (over and above a fine) will apply to the current season, punishing transgressions that happened in the last. The ongoing issue is that the F1 cap is set to shrink from (USD)$145million in 2021 to $140million for 2022 and $135million for the years 2023-2025. Before 2020, the top teams were believed to have been spending in excess of (USD)$200million per year.

The F1 cap applies to expenditure on car developments and performance but excludes some big-ticket items such as drivers' salaries, marketing costs, logistics, travel and legal costs.

The penalties range from deduction of points, where the overspend is categorised as minor or less than 5%, stage suspension, testing limitations, and reduction of the cost cap in respect of a particular team. The same penalties apply for transgressions of more than 5%, but with the ability to suspend a team from the entire competition.

By comparison with F1, an America's Cup team's budget is a frugal $100-120million. But that spend is across three or maybe four years and is all-inclusive. F1 consists of 22 events per year, not just a single racing period every three or four years.

The two top teams in F1, Mercedes-AMG Petronas and Oracle Red Bull Racing, are closely linked with two America's Cup teams - INEOS Britannia and Alinghi Red Bull Racing, respectively. INEOS Britannia's design team works out of the same premises as Mercedes-AMG in Brackley, UK.

Over the past week, the relationship between the two F1 team principals, Mercedes Toto Wolff and Red Bull's Christian Horner, has become particularly acrimonious. Should a Certificate of Compliance not be issued to one of the F1 teams as a result of the audit, then we will undoubtedly hear more of what happened in 2021 when the cap came into effect and co-incidentally, the two America's Cup teams were in the process of putting together design teams.

Mercedes-AMG has said in the media that they had to drop 40 designers to restructure for the 2021 F1 cost cap. Oracle Red Bull Racing have said they had to drop double that number to hit the required dollar limit.

We will stay tuned to this story, which is very much a First-World problem.

Cup Critiqued" takes an off-piste view of what isn't said in the media releases from the teams, Cup organisers, other Cup related parties/events and anything that isn't being done to death elsewhere.

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