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37th America's Cup Vilanova - What We Now Know

Matthew Sheahan - Closing thoughts on Vilanova AC Preliminary Regatta.

Before the preliminary America’s Cup regatta at Vilanova started there had been hints about the relative performances between the teams in the practice racing. There had been further snippets of intel at certain points when the fleet got to race one on the second day of the event. But with the fickle breeze being such a big factor we couldn’t be sure as to what we were looking at. On the final day (Sunday) things seemed much clearer as a steady breeze settled in for the first race of day three. For a start everyone was foiling, upwind at 25knots, downwind 32, this was what we wanted to see. We could see that American Magic were frequently quick off the line and up the first beat. We could also see that the Kiwis were staggeringly quick when they had clear air. The French were also surprisingly quick given how few days they’ve had with their boat, although when it came to tight boat on boat situations or mark roundings they didn’t look as sharp. On the other hand Alinghi did, throwing in some punchy close quarters manoeuvres that seemed to unsettle the big dogs at times. And talking of the experienced teams, shortly before the event got underway Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli boss Max Sirena told me that he felt that the AC40 was a distraction for his team. He said their main focus is on development aimed at their AC75 which is why they have spent so much time charging around in their very stylish test boat, the LEQ12. I got the same impression after talking to Ben Ainslie, again ahead of the racing, although he focussed on how much ground they had to make up along with the urgency. As things played out for INEOS it seemed painfully clear that he was right, they do indeed need to figure out how to be competitive in the AC40. This phase of the Cup cycle may not mean anything when it comes to points but it’s not good for morale or indeed team PR to be so comprehensively thrashed at the opening event. Focussing back on the front of the fleet, given the Kiwis regular impressive displays it was interesting to see that even they are capable of dropping the ball and splashing down when others are completing dry laps. Shortly after the last race helmsman Peter Burling confirmed that they too had plenty to go away and think about after this event. It would be tempting to agree that balancing your efforts as a team between focussing on the technical aspects of a very complex AC75 or learning how to sail an AC40 like you stole it is very hard. Some of the big guns say you can't do both. And yet American Magic's perfromance this weekend was all the more impressive because they seem to have done just that. Shortly before the event kicked off they turned down the offer of playing nicely with the others off Barcelona because they were still testing foils and systems. The pressure on the design team for the AC75 meant they felt they had little choice because feeding the beast is still key with the big boat under construction. So, to turn up in Vilanova and look so settled in the sports car that is the AC40 was a very good look. Overall, and despite the weather not playing ball, Vilanova was a great success in that it; a) got the 37th America’s Cup cycle under way and b) showed how kicking off a Cup cycle with one design racing can stir things up and engage a public that don’t yet want to know the specific, intricate details of the road to the 37th America’s Cup. Instead, for now they want to see fast boats, fleet racing and judging by the number that turned up on a Sunday night in a provincial town, a Champagne shower at the prize giving. The Vilanova event may not have told us much about where the teams are in their overall campaigns but there’s been plenty for us to talk about while the teams go back to base to think about what they did.

Matthew Sheahan

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