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Oracle skipper relishing challenge

Jimmy Spithill is perhaps never happier when things are looking tough. The Australian skipper of Oracle Team USA hopes to lift America's Cup for the third time in Bermuda next month, but as racing gets under way today, the pressure is on.

Oracle's crown is under threat, most notably from the well-organised Artemis Racing team and Emirates Team New Zealand, who continue to push boundaries in their design.

When racing starts in the Qualifiers today, Oracle will soon find out if they are on the pace or not. As the defender, they have an automatic ticket to the America's Cup Match, presented by Louis Vuitton, but like all the teams, they are trying to develop and get faster on a day-to-day basis.

“You naturally wish you had more time, but everyone feels the same,” Spithill said. “It has come up quick; all of a sudden it is all on us. To a certain point, you are restricted with what you can change now on the boat, but just the technique of sailing these boats is huge.

“Learning that and some of the manoeuvres is a massive amount of distance around the racetrack. It is still a very steep learning curve. When we were on monohull boats, it was more of a flat curve. It is still a steep curve and I don't see that changing.”

Sailing the new technology is not always an easy task, however, and Oracle have capsized twice in training. In this game, it is important to find positives even in near disaster.

“We've learnt why it happened, but we've learnt the recovery,” Spithill said. “The first time it happened, it took us almost 15 minutes to get the boat upright; the second time it took us under three minutes. Let's face it, you may have to race again that day if it happens.

“When we did it the second time, the guys were confident we could have raced again. You have got to use every situation as a learning experience.”

Previously there has always been the feeling that Oracle have been able to spend their way to victory, but this time the rules designed to make the sport more sustainable prevent that.

Still, the cards are dealt in their favour. No defender has been able to race in the Qualifiers before, essentially giving them a chance to try their boat in race conditions. Their technical partnership with SoftBank Team Japan also seems beneficial. The Japanese boat almost seems identical to Oracle's, giving the American team a chance to test all their ideas on two boats.

If Oracle finish top of the Qualifiers, they will have a one-point bonus advantage in the final, something worth fighting for, according to Spithill, especially compared with San Francisco two years ago when they started with a two-race penalty against New Zealand because of a rule infringement in the America's Cup World Series.

Paranoia is so strong among the team right now that Spithill was asked by a member of the New Zealand media at Thursday's press conference whether Oracle would be trying to win all their races in the Qualifiers, amid fears that the defender may attempt to manipulate results to eliminate a rival.

But there is a genuine concern among the other teams as to what would happen should New Zealand win. They were the only team not to sign a framework agreement for the future direction of the America's Cup, which would see the next Cup take place in 2019, featuring the same specification of boat, with an America's Cup World Series filling the period in between, beginning as early as September.

A New Zealand victory would result in all those plans being thrown into doubt and would plunge the event back into the old system of a defender and challenger of record deciding the rules, making planning or attracting new teams all the more difficult.

Land Rover BAR face the trickiest possible start to the Qualifiers today when they face Artemis in their opening match. The Swedish team have looked the strongest throughout practice in Bermuda and comfortably saw off Oracle in an informal match on Tuesday.

Because of yesterday's postponement owing to high winds, an extra hour has been added to the race window for each day of the weekend, meaning that BAR are scheduled to race twice on each day, against Artemis and Japan today, then against Oracle and New Zealand tomorrow. It marks a stern test of their ability before they face an easier task against France on Monday. The weather forecast looks good, though, with moderate winds of 10-15 knots and clear skies.

Steep learning curve: Oracle Team USA during training on the Great Sound (Photograph by Talbot Wilson)

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Published May 27, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 27, 2017 at 1:13 am)

Oracle skipper relishing challenge

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