America’s Cup 2021: Team New Zealand’s chances of rescheduled racing quashed

Team New Zealand’s chances of some further racing ahead of the America’s Cup in March have been quashed.

There had been talk of a rescheduled Prada Christmas Race, after the one day event on December 20 was abandoned due to lack of wind.

There was also speculation that some more official practice races could be staged, similar to the sequence that took place in the seven days leading up to the America’s Cup World Series.

The Herald understands that both those ideas are now firmly off the table, meaning that Team New Zealand won’t be able to test themselves again against any of the opposition boats until March 6th, the date slated as the first day of the America’s Cup match.

Staging the Christmas Race in early January was always a long shot, even if the suggestion was made with sincere intentions. Such an event, which would encompass four official races, requires significant organisation and there simply isn’t the people available – from the paid staff to the army of volunteers needed – to run such a program at short notice during New Zealand’s holiday period.

Official practice sessions in the second week of January would have been more viable, given the lesser manpower commitment.

Regatta director Iain Murray was pushing for some extra races, pointing out that it wasn’t just the crews that needed time on the water, after the America’s Cup World Series events in Cagliari and Portsmouth were unable to be staged earlier in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Not only [do] the race boats need practice, so do the race officials and everyone else,” Murray said after the America’s Cup World Series. “Certainly my perspective is that I would like to be out there on some more days.”

“There’s a lot of agreement needed on all of that, whether we can get out there and whether we’re out there as race officials practising our stuff and putting courses down.”

“Obviously there’s requirements from the maritime and the harbour and all of those things need to be resolved but my vote would be to get out there so when the competition starts, we’re more polished than we are now.”

Two-day sessions on January 7 and 8 or January 11 and 12 had been suggested by Murray.

But that is off the table.The logistics were difficult – given the short time frames until the Prada Cup (it starts on January 15) and the requirements that final boat configurations (including foil options) need to be submitted 120 hours ahead of the first day’s racing.

It’s believed that with so much going on, the idea of practice races wasn’t something that the three Challengers were pursuing with any urgency.

The decision also reflects a desire of American Magic, Luna Rossa and INEOS Team UK to follow their own path in the next two weeks.

Their priority is to be prepared for the Prada Cup and they don’t want to commit to anything that obliges them to follow a certain program. They would prefer to test things in a different way.

For Team New Zealand it’s unfortunate but far from a game changer. While some extra racing would have been a welcome bonus, it doesn’t change much for the defenders, as it was never in their schedule.

Helmsman Peter Burling was positive when the subject was first raised 10 days ago, but also surprised that the possibility had been floated.

“I haven’t talked to the team, but I am sure we would be happy to race again,” he said. “But even if we don’t, we have a pretty good plan going through and feel like we are in good shape.”

After the same press conference, Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena hedged his bets, admitting it wasn’t a straightforward decision. Sirena said that while there were some advantages, any proposed schedule would need to correspond “with [everyone’s] own plan and program.”

The fleet may cross paths over the next fortnight and could even engage in some impromptu drag racing on the Hauraki Gulf, as we saw occasionally in the month leading up to the America’s Cup World Series.

That won’t circumvent any rules, as long as there is no sailing or practising in a “co-ordinated manner” with the other teams.

Most of Team New Zealand enjoyed a break over the Christmas period, with Burling heading back to Tauranga for some family time. They are expected to return to full work mode early in the new year, as the countdown continues to the 36th America’s Cup.

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