Hardly earth shattering when you put it in context, but news nonetheless is the rather shady announcement that the Challenger of Record has quietly dropped the 15 minute delay rule which allowed teams suffering from gear fault the ability to ‘play a card’ as Ben Ainslie called it and halt racing before the starting gun. However you look at it, it’s just another classic AC piece of gamesmanship and you can’t help but see true colours emerging as the pressure comes on. Tiger tails are being tweaked.
Spin this from the perspective of the Challenger of Record (that’s Luna Rossa – or ‘Rohsa’ as the Americans and posh Brits like to say) and they’re just saying that the rule was a trial that elapsed at the end of the final race of the Round Robin and no-one had applied for it to continue into the semi-finals. End of story. Nothing to see here.
Spin this from the American Magic viewpoint, backed up by the almighty Defender Team New Zealand, and they will say that there was no consultation and seeing that they have paid the whopping entry fees, it would have been nice to have a seat at the table for a decision that affects their racing. You can see their point.
But at the end of the day, it’s a storm in a teacup. It’s handbags at dawn. It’s a salvo of shots whistling over the semi-finals on the eve of racing and it fills column inches. Will it affect racing? No. Not in the slightest. But it does serve to ramp up tensions and if you’re American Magic it feels like a small piece of the rug has just been pulled from underneath your feet.
It’s putting a tiny bit more pressure on the sailors and shore crew to get it right straight from the off but the ironic thing is, is that the rule was nicknamed “Jimmy’s Rule” and was brought in because he sat on the podium moaning that they were ‘flying blind’ in THAT last race against American Magic when their electronics crashed. The only displays they had onboard was a Timex Triathlon digital watch, which from experience, is more difficult to programme than a Space X rocket and has a nasty habit of switching itself off 2 minutes before you actually need it. If you’ve ever used one as a racing sailor, you’ll know what I mean.
It’s an excuse of sorts, and went some way to explaining why they tacked off early on the first beat miles from the boundary and then bounced up the middle of the course but does little to explain the missed windshifts, poor cant drops, slow turns and lack of pace against the Americans. Not buying it personally.
The straight fact is that Luna Rohsa, the Whining Moons, are a team under pressure and they are playing the playbook for all it’s worth. It’s probably all they can do now. Plonked in their situation, we would probably all do the same – especially with Patrizio ‘I-want-to-see-a-fair-sporting-contest-on-the-water’ Bertelli breathing down your neck.
Anything they can do to unsettle the opposition, they are doing. Whether that’s firing in protests a dime a dozen or a CNC against Ineos Team UK or now trying to hold a knife to American Magic’s throat, they’re doing it. The gamble here is that Magic, short of systems practice time and probably a little nervous sailing the rebuilt Patriot, will have an issue in the pre-start and the Italians would rather win ugly and uncontested on the back of a breakdown. Okay fair enough. We’ve all sailed against infuriating pedants like this. The only way to shut them up is go out and thump them.
Terry Hutchinson has been one-design and big boat sailing long enough to have seen it all. This is news but it’s hardly newsworthy. American Magic just have to stay in their lane and concentrate on the things they can control and that’s all before them. They had a few issues in yesterday’s practice – again most probably over-blown – as they went through their final checks. A little hobby-horsing and getting the new rudder cavitating most probably brought back the worst memories but they trained long into the evening and they’ll be as ready as they can be. They have to trust now in the inherent speed of Patriot and trust in arguably the better match-racer in Dean Barker with Paul Goodison whispering in his ear. It should, on paper, work.
Two races scheduled for tomorrow morning (UK time) – it promises to be a fascinating contest. The outright favourites at the start of the Round Robin series on the back foot against a charged-up Italian crew in the throes of desperation. You really can’t script it better. The America’s Cup keeps on serving up these wonderful battles. It’s a terrific competition, unique in the sporting world. As the most enthusiastic, committed, lifelong fan of the Cup, I just cannot wait.
See through the noise and enjoy it. Ignore the handbags and the storms in teacups. It’s absolutely game on and they are playing for keeps.
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