Battle lines drawn ahead of AC35 Finals
Hunting season has officially opened and Jimmy Spithill has Kiwi in his crosshairs.
The Oracle Team USA skipper has taunted Emirates Team New Zealand all week on social media and on the eve of the America’s Cup Match, presented by Louis Vuitton, he turned up the heat by firing a warning shot across the challengers’ bow.
Spithill took delight in playing up the progress he said the defenders of the “Auld Mug” have made in the final lead-up to their grudge match with the Kiwis in terms of boat speed and handling, and suggested that the best is yet to come from 17 at the skippers’ press conference yesterday.
“We have definitely improved and these next two weekends will be another great opportunity for that,” Spithill declared.
“We have put in a lot of work. We have tried a lot of different stuff on the boat — techniques and sailing — and so for us it’s been a great period.”
Peter Burling, the New Zealand helmsman, returned fire and took equal delight in playing up the improvements he said his team have made en route to the final.
Burling said his team is “tougher” than the one that lost twice against Oracle during the round-robin Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers.
“We definitely feel like we are a lot harder as a team after the racing that we’ve had, and that’s full credit to the likes of Artemis and [Land Rover] BAR for the way they pushed us in the semi-finals and the finals,” Burling said.
“We definitely feel like we are a lot tougher as a team now coming into this than we were a few weeks ago.”
As well as boat handling, the key to victory on any given race day will be choosing the ideal configuration with their foil daggerboards to maximise boat speed in the conditions, which Spithill and Burling touched on.
“You have to have a crossover and a range in your set-ups,” Spithill said. “You’ve only got four foils to essentially choose from and each team has had to take that into account when they’ve designed and engineered them.
“We feel we got a good crossover and we’ve seen these guys can get through a pretty good range as well, so that’s only going to keep the racing close.”
Burling added: “Our designers have done a great job designing us some boards with some pretty good crossovers and overlaps.
Definitely in that series last weekend [the Challenger Play-off Finals against Artemis Racing], we got caught out a couple of times probably not on the ideal configuration, but we managed to find some pretty good boat speed anyway.”
Oracle are gunning for a third successive Cup triumph, while Team New Zealand are seeking redemption after squandering a seemingly impregnable 8-1 lead in the previous in San Francisco four years ago.
“We all remember seeing San Fran and how close we did get there and we’ve definitely learnt a lot of lessons since that time and we’re a lot stronger team and a different team than we were back then,” Burling said. “We are just really excited to get out racing this weekend and the support we get from back home is overwhelming and absolutely amazing.”
Spithill and Burling are bracing themselves for what they expect will be a hard-fought battle.
“You’ve got two of the best teams in the world going head-to-head in a real heavyweight battle,” Spithill said.
“There’s a reason why the teams are here at this point: the teams are at a very, very high level and you will see us pushing very hard.
“We’re expecting very aggressive and tight racing. I’m expecting it’s going to be one hell of a fight.”
Burling added: “I’m sure it’s going to be one hell of a battle out there on the water. That’s what we’re here for, and that’s what we’re excited to get into.”
The forecast is for light to moderate easterlies this weekend, with winds at 8-11 knots.
“The easterly is a tricky direction,” Spithill said. “It’s shifty and puffy, and I’m sure you’ll see some lead changes in the racing because of it.”
The first team to earn seven points walks away with the “Auld Mug”. Oracle have a one-point advantage heading into the America’s Cup Match, which they earned for winning the Qualifiers.
This means the defender has forced the challenger to at minus-one point, requiring eight wins to lift the Cup.
In response to a question regarding Oracle’s advantage, Burling was quick to emphasise that “if history is anything to go by from last time, it doesn’t matter at all”.
• Yesterday’s opening day of the America’s Cup J Class Regatta was abandoned because of light winds.
The six participating J Class yachts will take part in a special exhibition immediately before today’s opening races of the America’s Cup Match before resuming racing off the East End on Monday.