Friday, November 09, 2007

Full details of the America's Cup schedule and competition format

America's Cup Management, the organizers of the America's Cup, presented yesterday in Barcelona the schedule and competition format of the 33rd America's Cup as well as further details on the new boats. Without any doubt, everything we saw and were told in the press room was very interesting. The new boats seem to live to their promise, at least they are spectacular. The competition format will provide lots of racing and we particularly like the idea of organized practice races.

Still, all this looks great on paper. Imagine having a fiancée and planning a great wedding ceremony in your city's cathedral, followed by an exquisite reception in the most fashionable and exclusive spot and finally a honeymoon on the sandy beaches of an exotic tropical island but at the same time knowing that at any time, a judge might rule the divorce from her previous marriage is invalid!!

That was the feeling yesterday in the conference room. With the decision of Judge Cahn possibly being made public any time now, all these plans might remain just that, plans. If Judge Cahn rules that CNEV is an invalid yacht club then the protocol becomes invalid and everything must be renegotiated with BMW Oracle. As one can also hear on the audio file of the conference, none of the speakers wanted to speculate on the various outcomes of the court case. It's a pity, but unfortunately that's the current state of affairs.

The obvious question that comes to our mind is why didn't Alinghi/ACM publish this set of rules much earlier and instead presented such a vaguely written protocol that was bound to make even the most neutral observer consider it as extremely one-sided? Yet, all the details are now known and we think it's time BMW Oracle decided once and for all whether they consider them fair or not.

Here are the main points of the conference. If you want to hear for yourself what was said, you can listen here to the entire audio file. Warning, it's more than 1 hour long and quite often it's in Spanish, without any translation:

AC90 Rule
We will not go too much into detail about the rule of the new boat since it has been publicly available since the 31st of October and the following image and funky video show the main differences from the yachts used in the 32nd edition of the event.

A point where all speakers agreed upon was to call the new boats "faster, more spectacular and more demanding for the crew". They are 25% longer than the previous yachts, a little bit lighter and the sail area has increased by 50%. As a result, they are much more responsive to wind. In addition, crew will have to work much harder since its total number went up from 17 to only 20.

Tom Schnackenberg called them "downwind boats", since their speed edge over the previous yachts will be more visible downwind. According to Schnackenberg, the consultation process with the challengers started on September 15 when Alinghi presented the "key numbers in a handful of slides". After a non-stop feedback from the other teams, the wording of the rule was put up at the final stages of the process. That allowed the other designers to ask questions that lead to clarifications, rectifications and a final version that was made public on October 31.

Juan Kouyoumdjian, TeamOrigin's principal designer, also sounded very upbeat about the AC90. He claimed the boats will be faster in all conditions, especially downwind. According to him, upwind they will be 1-1.5 knots faster than the V5 yachts and downwind "probably more" where they will sail at wind speed. Finally, Kouyoumdjian stated that the decision by the challengers to lower displacement to 23 tonnes was driven by their wish to have lighter, more performing boats and, of course, limit Alignhi's advantage as much as possible.

Ralf Vrolijk, Alinghi's principal designer, was obviously self-congratulatory, given the fact the rule is his brainchild. He claimed this "box rule" will provide close competition and close performance, speed wise. Given the very short time left (boats must be launched and sailing at most a year from now), in this first version of the rule it was decided to limit the areas where designers could develop the boats. As a result, development will be limited to hull shapes, construction and structural engineering. On the other hand, configuration of sails, masts, appendages will be more or less fixed. There won't be time to develop "radical" configurations.

Vrolijk stated the race course would be longer but given the fact these boats will be 1.5-2 knots faster upwind and much more downwind, the total sailing time will be equal. According to him, there will be "a lot of overtaking".

Main differences between the IACC V5 and AC90 boats. Copyright America's Cup Management

Boat Regulations
There is a number of interesting new regulations and deadlines concerning the boats. The cornerstone of the 33rd America's Cup is that teams are allowed to sail only one boat at time, whether it's the current ACC V5 or the future AC90. Concerning the current boats, teams are free to train against each other without any limitations. In fact, Desafío Español and United Internet Team Germany have been doing that for the last couple of weeks. These boats have also a "retirement" date since from 1 January 2009 they will not be allowed to sail in Valencia.

As for the future AC90 yachts, teams will be allowed to build two, if they desire so, but again sail only one at a time. A new deadline has been set for December 15. Any team that has been officially accepted as challenger by that date will have the right to build two new boats, if so desired. After that date, all new teams will be limited to only one new boat. Without any doubt, Alinghi and ACM are trying to force any potential teams enter as soon as possible.

Teams that opt for two new boats must have the first one launched by 1 November 2008. That means existing teams have less than a year at their disposal while any future team that might enter will have a mere 11 months to set up shop, design, build and launch the new boat! Time is by far the most precious commodity in Port America's Cup.

Sail Inventory
Great attention was given to the number of sails each team can use. According to Tom Schnackenberg, ACM decided to limit the number of "actually built sails" to 25 for the year 2008 and another 45 for 2009. According to him, their aim was once again to contain costs and level the playing field in order to avoid having rich teams build 150 sails, way beyond the reach of poorer ones.

In relation to the obligation of the 2-boat teams to launch the first new yacht before November 2008, there will be a penalty for failing to do so. Any team that doesn't sail its first boat before that deadline will only have right for 15 sails in 2008.

Official Practice Races
That will also be an innovation for this edition of the world's oldest sports competition. Given the fact teams will not have the right to train against each other with their new boats, ACM will organize, starting October 2008, official practice races, both match and fleet racing. Their frequency will be set by the Competitors Commission and will be based on the demand by the teams. ACM will set up the race course (committee boat and buoys) as well as the schedule. Most probably there will not be any umpires and sometimes races might have just two legs (upwind, downwind).

The schedule will be known 3-4 weeks in advance and one aspect ACM is focusing on, is the marketing and media value of these races. Teams will be able to have their guests and sponsors watch them and the media will be allowed to follow them as well. There will be a one-month break for the holidays at the end of 2008 and then continue in crescendo.

Acts - pre Regattas
The term "Act" is once again being used in order to define the regattas that will take place before the Challenger Selection Series (CSS) and the America's Cup Match itself. Two Acts are scheduled to take place and a third one is under consideration.

The first Act will take place in Valencia in June-July 2008 while the second one will be in September 2008 at a European location, still not officially disclosed, although the rumor in the conference room was pointing towards an English coastal city. Both Acts will consist of match and fleet racing. Unlike the Acts in 2006 and 2007, these ones will not carry any points towards the CSS. Nevertheless, and in order to increase team participation, a bonus system has been devised for the those that participate in both events.

According to Tom Schnackenberg, teams that participate in both acts in 2008 will have the right to build an additional 5 sails. The overall winner will have the right for 2 extra sails and the second best, the right for one more sail.

Related to these two Acts is another novelty, called the non-sailing periods. Starting two weeks before each Act, teams will not have the right to sail their AC90 boats in no way whatsoever. In addition, given the F1 race in Valencia next August, AC90 boats cannot be sailed from 3 August 2008 to 7 September 2008.

Finally, there might be a 3rd Act in Valencia in 2009 during the month of April.

Event format and schedule
This is certainly the most important part of the press conference. The quite complex format of the series is best described by the following graph and will start on 2 May 2009. The America's Cup Match will start on 18 July 2009. The graph assumes 10 teams (Alinghi + 9 challengers).

Here as well there is a novelty considered controversial by a number observers. For the first time in the history of the event, the Defender will be able to participate to a large extent in the selection of the Challenger.

The series will start with a set of 2 round robins among the 10 teams. Four of them will be eliminated will the remaining 6 will then move to the semi-finals. The 4 eliminated teams will participate in a round of exhibition fleet races.

The 6 semi-finalists will then face each other in a series of 3 round robins. The best challenger will automatically go the the CSS final while the 2nd and 3rd challenger will race each other in a best-of-three series in order to decide the second finalist. Finally, the challenger that wins the best-of-seven final will obviously face Alinghi in the America's Cup Match.

The extent to which Alinghi will be able to influence the semi-finals is still to be seen. Although the format was revealed what is unclear is the scoring system of the semi-final round robins. Will all races weigh equally? Will races against Alinghi carry a different score? Of course, there are additional issues independent of the scoring system that could put in doubt the results. What incentive does Alinghi have to fight hard in every race? Could Alinghi favor a "weaker" team by losing all its matches against them? During the semi-finals Alinghi will face each of the 3 top challenger 3 times.

Without any doubt, Alinghi can very well sandbag any race. Brad Butterworth can for example "miss" that 20-degree right shift and let TeamOrigin win the race but will he do it? We can't see how Alinghi can make the strongest challenger finish fourth in the semi-finals so that they drop out of the finals.

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At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for keeping us so well informed. Your website is fantastic. The America's Cup community pretty much relies on you to keep us up-to-date with everything that is going on as it is the most reliable information.

At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alinghi may not be able to "kick" the top challenger out of the top 3, but they can certainly affect the order by handing 3 points to another team. Even moving the top challenger from 1 to 2 will change the event. They could also, more than likely, affect the order of the 3rd and 4th team. From that perspective it seems reasonable that there would be no points at stake in the matches against Alinghi (in the semis at least). However, that creates its own set of problems in that the challengers have less incentive to race "all out". At least that would be the same for all challengers but could be bad for Alinghi.


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