Oracle talks up human factor over hi-tech aids
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Russell Coutts preferred to talk about the human element in Oracle's success but the buzz persisted that his syndicate's successful America's Cup comeback was built around a computer-generated aid derived from a program used to steady the flight of planes.
Oracle appear to have successfully transferred the formula on to the giant AC72 catamarans, using it to steady the foiling abilities and to generate speed.
That upwind foiling speed, when the hulls were lifted clear of the water to reduce drag, was again at the heart of their come-from-behind win in the winner-takes-all race against Team New Zealand yesterday. They simply blasted past the Kiwis into the breeze and romped away to a 44-second win, displaying their ability to hold steady on their foils for long periods to make significant gains.
Team New Zealand had suspicions on the eve of the cup about an automated "stored energy" system Oracle were using to move their foils but their queries were rebuffed by the international jury.
Oracle's refinement of the system as the final wore on appears to have been key to their success.
They engineered a turnaround of nearly two minutes between the two teams on that upwind leg over the period of the match.
All of the many changes they made along the way gained the nod from the measurement committee.
Team New Zealand accepted that and certainly did not want to make a fuss last night, taking their defeat on the chin.
"They beat us, they were faster in the end, they were better," Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said.
Quizzed about the changes that his Oracle team had made, chief executive Coutts said they had simply found a better balance with the boat.
"The major changes in my view were the balance of the boat, where obviously the load sharing between the foils is critical, so we adjusted that quite a lot," Coutts told American media.
"We changed that loading by manipulating the wing shapes and flaps. So we didn't actually change anything in a physical sense. We just changed the setting, so we more bottom-loaded the wing and more off-loaded that, and that created a different loading for the foils, and that was probably the biggest change we made.
"And then there were a bunch of little changes that just reduced the drag a few kilos here and a few kilograms there, and all of a sudden you have an edge."
But Coutts, who has now been involved in five America's Cup wins, said the human factor could not be ignored. They had found the best sailors who had adapted their game under enormous pressure.
"Everyone talks about the technology: What changes did you make," Coutts said. "The guys on board changed a lot. For sure there was a use of the technology change where we manipulated the force or manipulated the balance of those forces, but the guys on board the boat changed their technique, so there's this fantastic human element to this which really won the day in the end, which is great."
Oracle backer Larry Ellison explained his low-key role at the regatta, saying he wanted his radical concept to prove itself.
"There was a lot of criticism about these boats. I thought that rather than me personally responding, it would be up to the guys ultimately to show what these boats are like on the water. Let the regatta get started and let the people judge," he said.
He felt the event had been as successful as his team.
"This regatta was the most magnificent spectacle I've ever seen on the water," he said. "We tried to make sailing a bit more extreme, a bit more friendly for the viewing audience. This regatta has changed sailing forever."
Ellison did not reveal who the next challenger of record would be, though most expect Artemis Racing to hold that honour again.
And while Ellison joked about sailing the next America's Cup off his private Hawaiian Island of Lanai, he indicated he would like to continue with San Francisco.
"Personally, I'd love to come back.
"It's a beautiful place to have a regatta. But we're going to sit down with the officials in San Francisco and see if it is possible to come back," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News