Timeline set for Team NZ to confirm Cup entry

TIME FOR ACTION: Team NZ managing director Grant Dalton, left, and skipper Dean Barker and their team have two months to confirm their entry into a radically revamped 35th edition of the America's Cup.
TIME FOR ACTION: Team NZ managing director Grant Dalton, left, and skipper Dean Barker and their team have two months to confirm their entry into a radically revamped 35th edition of the America's Cup.

Team New Zealand have two months to confirm an entry into a radically revamped America's Cup.

Holders Team Oracle USA and challenger of record, Australia's Hamilton Island Yacht Club, finally released the protocol for the 35th edition of sport's oldest trophy today.

Much of the changes had already been signalled in various discussions with key players over the last few months.

But it represents a dynamic shift from the last regatta in San Francisco where Oracle edged Team New Zealand 9-8 in a dramatic final.

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton is overseas completing another fundraising drive and isn't expected back in New Zealand until tomorrow.

Other senior management in the team were meeting in Auckland this morning to wade their way through the details of the 78-page document to see whether a Kiwi challenge was feasible.

While the protocol gives Team New Zealand a working paper to try to tie down major sponsorships, it still leaves the unanswered question of the venue for the next event in 2017.

That will have a major bearing on Team New Zealand who will be desperate for it to again be in a high profile American location, offering a suitable market for their sponsorship and government interests.

Teams have until August 8 to enter.

They will have to submit a US$1m entry fee on that date. And by December 1 they will need to top that entry fee up with a second US$1m instalment as well as a US$1m performance bond. 

The actual America's Cup final will now be a first to seven affair, rather than the nine wins required to claim the Auld Mug last time.

The America's Cup series will be raced in 62 foot foiling catamarans, smaller than the 72-footer used last time, with crews reduced from 11 to eight. Designers believe the reductions will have little affect on the boats performances in terms of speed.

True to America's Cup tradition, the rules appear loaded towards the defender. Oracle is able to build two AC62s while challengers can only build one.

Oracle will also be able to sail in the challenger series this time, giving it increased racing ahead of the match. That also makes it eligible to gain the one point on offer to the top boat heading into the match.

As anticipated there will be qualifying series around the world over the next two years with New Zealand able to host one. These will be sailed in the smaller 45-foot catamarans but will carry points towards the actual America's Cup.

In a nutshell, the new format includes.

   * A three year racing program from 2015 to 2017 with every race counting towards qualification and/or points in the final America's Cup match

   * At least six America's Cup World Series events per year in 2015 and 2016 to be raced in the AC45 class. All teams have an opportunity to host an event in their home country

   * An America's Cup qualifiers series in 2017 involving all teams, with a bonus point in the America's Cup Match at stake

   * America's Cup challenger playoffs for the top four challenger teams to emerge from the Qualifiers 

   * The America's Cup match, featuring the defender, Oracle against the top challenger. The first team to win seven points will win the America's Cup

   * Up to two Youth America's Cup events providing a pathway for young sailors to join the top rank of professionals

   * The new AC62 yacht - a foiling, wing sail catamaran sailed by 8 crew - to be raced in all events in 2017

   * A crew nationality rule requiring at least 25% of the AC62 crew to be nationals of the country of their challenge

In releasing the protocol Mat Belcher, the skipper of Team Australia, the Challenger of Record. Said:  "We are convinced the 35th America's Cup will surpass previous events in almost every way: more challengers, amazing new boats and a competition structure that will engage and enthrall people over a three year period."

Oracle anticipate increased challengers on the three that turned up to San Francisco last time, hampered by the high costs of the first design of the radical cats.

"It's the America's Cup, so it's not supposed to be easy, but our goal is to make it a three-peat," says Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill, who led his team to victory in 2010 and 2013.

"It was so close last time. Battling back to win from being down 8-1 is something we will never forget and I expect it will be just as difficult this time."