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36th America’s Cup 2021: Making Waves with Ideas!

There are only five million inhabitants in New Zealand, but this is where you find a bunch of good rugby players and the best sailing team in the world. Despite a low budget, over the past eight America’s Cup challenges, Team New Zealand was won four times times. America and Alinghi, of Switzerland won twice each.


The America’s Cup in short

Founded in 1851, the America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in international sport. The first challenge took place around the Isle of Wight, when the schooner “America” – which gave its name to the event - won. Queen Victoria asked which boat had taken second place and was famously answered: “Your Majesty, there is no second” which stands today as the competition’s mindset. Weirdly enough, the “Auld Mug” has never been won by the United Kingdom in 170 years. The high costs associated with the boats, R&D and the crewing quickly turned this event into a hotspot for billionaires including Sir Thomas Lipton, Harold Vanderbilt, John Pierpont Morgan, Ted Turner, Bill Koch and Ernesto Bertarelli. Larry Ellison, completely transformed the event in 2013, turning an often-obscure offshore regatta into an exciting event thanks to three points: 1. Introducing fast boats: the AC72. 2. Making the event “television compatible” by introducing new technologies and more spectacular venues and 3. Helping new teams, such as SoftBank Team Japan, participate. 

“By complexifying the innovation process, Team New Zealand played on their strength!"

The 2021 challenge

In 2021, with costs rising again, only three teams were able to enter the Prada Cup, which decides which challenger will qualify for the America’s Cup. The American team went home with 10 losses and no victory and Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team destroyed the UK’s TEAM INEOS 7 to 1. A big blow for Sir Ben Ainslie, winner of four Olympic gold medals and his generous sponsor, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, one of the richest men in the United Kingdom and founder of INEOS. In the America’s Cup regatta, Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa started exchanging blows until they reached 3-3. In the seventh race Team New Zealand got off its foils allowing Luna Rossa to build a 2,400 meters lead before losing by 1,800 meters in a race of only 32km! This was a turning point and Team New Zealand went on to win 7-3.


The Team New Zealand approach

When they entered the competition for the first time in 1987, the Kiwis shocked the world with a glass fiber boat that performed very well. In 2017, everyone had to use the same boat. The Kiwis also introduced revolutionary bike-powered winches. After winning the America’s Cup in 2017, Team New Zealand had control over key decisions of the race: boat, location, rules. They could have followed Larry Ellison’s path, trying to lower costs to make the race more accessible and turn the sport into a global success. Instead, they went in completely the other direction, allowing teams to build two boats, almost from scratch, leaving plenty of room for engineers to kill the match with their computers. Why would they do that? They played on their strength! Competing with a much smaller budget than Prada or the TEAM INEOS, they knew that they could gain a key advantage with their brainpower. It worked: they won again, but this came at a high cost for the competition which received low media coverage outside of New Zealand. 

Next regatta

Emirates Team New Zealand has already accepted a “Notice of Challenge “ for the 37th America’s Cup from the Royal Yacht Squadron Racing – the organizer of the race in 1851 - represented by TEAM INEOS UK, which will act as the Challenger of Record for AC37. This means that Sir Jim Ratcliffe is already committing his millions to the next regatta in his quest to win the America’s Cup for the United Kingdom for the first time. He will bring his business acumen to the discussions and, if Team New Zealand accepts, to make this race more “open.” This could increase its attraction not only to European teams but also to a Chinese or Japanese team, all eager to demonstrate their innovation and sailing capabilities. Teams will be allowed to build only one AC75 this time, and a new nationality rule will prevent the repetition of Alinghi’s story, where a large part of the Kiwi team went to work for the Swiss team.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team co-helmsman looks back at the 36th America’s Cup finals.

One of the most decorated sailors in the world, Jimmy Spithill made history when, aged 30, he became the youngest skipper to win the America’s Cup. That triumph in 2010 with BMW Oracle Racing was followed up three years later with a successful defense over Team New Zealand and a loss in 2017 and 2021against the same opponent. 


Why did Team New Zealand win? 

In the America’s Cup the New Zealanders showed that they had a very strong package. They were able to make a lot of their design, engineering and development decisions later than us because they did not race until the America’s Cup regatta. 

Is there any single factor that made all the difference?

In my experience, it’s a multitude of things. But I believe the boat speed was the biggest factor in this America’s Cup, as it’s always been.


How much does the human element come into play?

The sailors play a huge role. The boats are incredibly physical and you have to be a few steps ahead, trying to get off the start line well, making good decisions and racing well. But again, the boat speed is fundamental. No matter how good the jockeys are, you need a fast horse.


The teams in this America’s Cup seem well matched – there was a lot of star power on both boats.

Both teams are pretty experienced. For example, Glenn Ashby and I go way back – he was our coach in 2010 when we won our first America’s Cup with Oracle and he’s been with Team New Zealand ever since. Both teams are well stacked in terms of personnel, on and off the water.


What about conditions?


Sometimes in New Zealand you can get all the seasons in a single day! I think the boats each had their sweet spots, and it is difficult for the sailors to overcome that.


What was your team’s mindset?

Whether it had been a tough day or a good day, just be very consistent and composed. Take the lessons and focus 100 per cent of the time and energy on the next race. The next race is the only thing that matters.


How did you feel in the moments before the start of each race?
With every race, it’s really exciting. One of the main reasons you do it is that mixture of emotions, adrenaline, anxiety and a bit of nervousness. That minute or two just before you enter that pre-start box and engage with the other team and you’re all on the boat ready to go… It’s an incredible feeling and very, very addictive


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