Virtually lost in the flurry of press releases around the Covid outbreak and subsequent suspension of racing in the Prada Cup Final is a piece of Team New Zealand information that piqued my interest. The Kiwis were swift to make friends with Gabe Newell, the ex-Microsoft executive who went on to found a wildly successful video game platform and became richer than Croesus. The Seattle native sat out Covid in New Zealand and has ended up sponsoring the team with an eye on creating an e-sports circuit for the America’s Cup, similar to what the dynamic young F1 drivers compete in on a nightly basis.
But that’s all well and good and we’ll find the next generation of talent not sailing Oppies in the Interislander at Picton (which has been postponed by the way) or on some puddle ditch in the north of England, but in his or her bedroom munching crisps and pretending to home-school. Good for them. Kids heh?
No, what interested me is the matching of Team New Zealand Principal Matteo de Nora’s $500,000 donation to the Motor Neurone Disease Association of New Zealand that Gabe Newell will be making. That’s big dollars and quite frankly we don’t hear enough of this kind of largesse. The Cup cut and thrust consumes the headlines. The new batwing sail on Team New Zealand will get more headlines than this and mention charity or charitable giving and the public gets unfairly sceptical. But this is the real deal. It’s $1m cash on the table from two big names in this Cup cycle and should be applauded as should Team New Zealand’s promotion of its official charity. The Cup has never done enough to give back – perhaps the tide is turning? We should recognise it when it happens.
So whilst Newell creates the killer App for the gaming community and generously donates to those far less fortunate than us, the simulator motherboards at the Luna Rossa and Ineos bases will be red-hot with repeat plays of the starting sequence. Ainslie and Spithill will be relentlessly dissecting the playbook, eyes on stalks trying to find the moves in the highly restricted boundary box. There aren’t many if truth be told but it’s the critical pole position advantage that they both need to nail as so far there have been no passing lanes on the course for the tacticians to earn their keep. It’s all very well being weighed down by precious metal garnered from the Olympic arena but if the wind stays even, it’s all eyes on the man on the stick to get off the line flying.
Acres of digital pages and analysis have been written about the Ineos bronco that nearly swept Ben into Davy’s Locker, and it was a ballsy call to go tight beneath Prada but did it make any sense? To my eye, the angle of approach back to the line would have put Ineos into coffin corner despite Luna Rossa having to kill a few seconds. Would Ineos have been able to squeeze up to the port hand buoy is the question and I can’t see it to be honest and there was every chance of being gassed to oblivion down there. In the end, the Brits miraculously rescued it on the lead back and tacked to port to cross and start. It was a mess.
But here’s the theory. Ineos came out on Saturday with the wrong sails up – of that there is little doubt. The sighter of those opening races was a wake-up call in terms of tacking and gybing speed and they did indeed rise from a slumber for day two. The boats were much more evenly matched in terms of outright pace and closer in the manoeuvres but Ben and Giles had an uncharacteristic off day and sailed liked drains. Again that’s not conjecture, that’s reality. But the fact that they could eke out such a speed gain in just a few hours overnight is the canary in the coalmine.
The Ineos team would appear to have a mainframe system that can iron out deficiencies and no doubt we will hear in months to come from that ever reliable biblical source, Seahorse – subscription available below – of the killer analysis tool that made the difference. A bearded Professor with letters after his name and a Phd from Harvard’s Computer Sciences department will display graphs, coefficients and hieroglyphics that will reveal the code and we will all nod as we wade our way through the text before something more interesting on the telly grabs our attention.
That’s why I’m still calling this as a win for Ineos. Call me nuts but there’s something going on behind the shed doors and when it emerges, it will be a different platform. The software will be overhauled and clicks will miraculously be found in the foil drop arrangement. From the ashes, the Phoenix will rise. St Francis of Assisi, Francesco to his friends, the Italian Catholic Friar had it about right when he said: “Start by doing what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Nailing the tacks and gybes will be the difference.
Impossible is nothing. Especially in the America’s Cup.