Team New Zealand confirm 75ft monohull for America’s Cup, but Ben Ainslie warns protocol is ‘conflict of interest’

The new America’s Cup class will be a 75ft monohull, possibly with foils, and Prada will be sponsor of challenger series and Cup match. But Ben Ainslie warns of a “conflict of interest”

A 75ft monohull is to be the new America’s Cup class for challenger series and match in March 2021. This was part of a tranche of changes to the Cup format announced by Grant Dalton, CEO of Emirates Team New Zealand, as he revealed the new protocol in September.

Joined by team principal and chief financial backer Matteo de Nora, and Patrizio Bertelli, principal of the Luna Rossa campaign and CEO of Prada Group, Dalton revealed that the monohull design chosen, the new AC75, will be a 75ft high performance yacht. It will be sailed by 10-12 crew and be ‘suitable for match racing and close competition’.

Initial concept details of the design will be announced on 30 November, but the full class rule will not be published until 31 March 2018.

Most Cup followers believe it will be sport foils. Asked if the new class would feature them, Emirates Team New Zealand chief designer, Dan Bernasconi smiled coyly and said: “It might have!”

At the press conference, streamed over Facebook Live, Patrizio Bertelli explained that he had helped Emirates Team New Zealand during the last Cup cycle, confirming the widely held belief that there had been a pact to return to a monohull should the Kiwis win. In 2015, he had handed over Luna Rossa designers, sailors including skipper Max Sirena, a test boat after and a rumoured $30 million when he pulled out in protest at the change to the AC50 class.

Bertelli’s Prada Group will sponsor the preliminary regattas, challenger series (replacing Louis Vuitton) and be ‘presenting sponsor’ of the 36th America’s Cup Match.

The venue details even left open the possibility that the Cup match could be sailed in Italy instead of New Zealand. ‘It is intended that The Match venue and Challenger Selection Series be in Auckland, New Zealand in March 2021,’ the announcement read, but want on: ‘the alternate venue, included in the protocol, in the unlikely event that Auckland/New

Zealand is unable to host the event, will be Italy.’

The protocol, with Luna Rossa as challenger of record and Prada bankrolling the entire show, has been dubbed “a duopoly” by Sir Ben Ainslie, whose Land Rover BAR (the only other confirmed campaign for the next Cup) was left out in the cold during consultations. “There are clear conflicts of interest in this protocol,” he said.

Containing the costs

Ainslie’s team may bitterly disappointed that the framework plan to race every two years in foiling multihulls is dead. But a large swathe of the worldwide sailing audience never cared for the AC50s. Hardcore sailing fans found the catamaran racing unexciting and will be pleased to see a return to lots of close action and crew running around hoisting and handling sails.

But it does not necessarily mean an end to grinders powering hydraulics and, intriguingly, the new protocol specifically allows so-called cyclors, or cycle grinders.

The new design is slightly bigger than the active 70ft Mini Maxi class, and could appeal to existing teams and new owners from this field. It would be large enough to look exciting and be fast.

To contain costs, some components will be one-design or single standard manufacture. Teams will be allowed to build two boats, but only one at a time, which the exception of the defender, which is allowed to two-boat test during the challenger selection trials.

Grant Dalton also announced the new nationality rule he had been promising. The protocol stipulates that ’20 per cent of three sailors of the total crew (whichever is higher) must be true nationals.’

The rest of the crew need to comply with residency rules, meaning they have to live in the country of the challenging yacht club for a minimum of 380 days between the 1 September 2018 and 31 August 2020 – that is, the equivalent of six months each year. The restriction doesn’t apply to shore team or designers. This restricts the area in which teams can operate and train; they can no longer be based for continuous long periods near the race venue.

As for the racing format, it will go back to upwind starts and traditional pre-start manoeuvres and tactics, and follow windward-leeward courses

Speaking about the protocol, Dalton said: “From the moment we won we have felt a responsibility to release this document as soon as possible to provide the required details that potential teams can now base a challenge on.

“The plans are coming together nicely – we shall have a very exciting boat that will be fast and powerful.  We are pushing the boundaries of what is possible technically and this will test the designers, boatbuilders and the sailors to the limit – just what the America’s Cup is all about.”

Advantage defender?

When his team won in Bermuda, Dalton promised to ‘do the right thing’ for the America’s Cup. He also insisted that the formula would not be one designed from the outset to give the defenders an advantage.

But when there’s big money at stake, generous-sounding principles have a habit of withering – especially in the America’s Cup.

The wait until next March for full details of the new class gives ETNZ and Luna Rossa a big head start in recruiting designers and refining design tools. “The agreement with the challenger of record and the defender puts them in a pretty nice position. They know what the rule is going to be and can work towards it,” comments Ben Ainslie.

“It’s not ideal from any challengers perspective because we want to be on a level playing field. But that’s the America’s Cup.

Ainslie, who has confirmed the intention of Land Rover BAR to challenge for the Cup despite the change to the class, agrees that: “There is a lot to be positive about. It will be a monohull the likes of which we have never seen before. A traditional America’s Cup would be a good one from a sailing and design perspective. We would still attract the fans we have from foiling multihulls.”

But like all other interested sailors and teams, Ainslie’s campaign has been left looking in from the outside. “The only thing we [knew] is what was leaked through the media; we have none of the details here so it’s interesting when they say there will be discussions with stakeholders. We’d love to be consulted and understand what constitutes a stakeholder. That’s something we will be pushing for, for more detail.”

A huge responsibility

Many will welcome the possibility that the America’s Cup could be sailed in Italy, which is a bigger market and time zone for most sponsors and audiences, though it’s doubtful the New Zealand public would wear the Cup match being wrested away from them. Either works for the British team: “New Zealand or Italy – either venue would be fantastic. That doesn’t concern me, or us, too much, says Ainslie.

But the close alignment of defender, challenger and sponsor is a different matter.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a challenger of record with so much influence in the whole event, the challenger series and the match, so it’s an interesting situation we find ourselves in.

“Prada have control of almost everything. There are clear conflicts of interest in this protocol and it is a huge responsibility on Luna Rossa to make sure this is fair for challengers. It’s not ideal from any challengers perspective because we want to be on a level playing field. But that’s the America’s Cup.

Also out in the cold – for now – is defeated Oracle Team USA skipper. Spithill has said he is disappointed by what he considers a step back from multihulls. “We have come from the most amazing boats in the world. It’s really tough to think about [not] sailing these things. Whether you win or lose, you feel like you are ready to go into some sort of clinic. How do you beat that adrenaline?”

But Spithill, like most of the America’s Cup seasoned campaigners, wants back anyway, monohull or multihull.

Key points

  • Yacht will be 75ft monohull
  • Cup Match is ‘intended to be’ in Auckland in 2021, with pre-regattas in 2019 and 2020
  • Challenger series organised by the challenger of record
  • Some one-design components but design ‘open in important areas’
  • 10-12 crew. Cycle grinders allowed
  • No tank testing or wind tunnel testing allowed
  • Longer races of 40 minutes each and upwind start
  • Nationality rule 20 per cent citizenship and a residency requirement.

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