America's Cup boat size reduction will entice new teams - Russell Coutts
America's Cup boss Sir Russell Coutts claims reducing the size of the boats for the next regatta will attract new teams to a contest desperately seeking competitiveness.
Coutts, the New Zealander in charge at Cup holder Oracle Team USA, and also the powerful CEO of the America's Cup Event Authority, has broken his silence on the controversial move which the current teams are due to vote on.
"If these changes are adopted it seems certain new teams will join this edition of the Cup," Coutts said in a statement on the eve of the vote.
The six teams – Oracle (USA), Team New Zealand, Team France, Ben Ainslie Racing (Britain), Artemis Racing (Sweden) and Luna Rossa (Italy) - are being asked to scuttle the planned 62-footers before they have even left the design desks and opt for a smaller 45 to 50-foot foiling catamaran, organsiers say will result in significant cost reductions.
Luna Rossa have already voiced their opposition and threatened to withdraw if the new boats are adopted. Team New Zealand have also voiced their opposition, saying the AC62 design process is too far down the line to abandon.
But organisers are using a loophole in the complicated rules to get the move through.
With the challengers now adopting a new committee approach rather than the one official Challenger of Record, a majority decision is all that is required to change the Cup protocol.
Engineer that vote, which looks a formality, to get the concept adopted, then the subsequent unanimous decision to change the AC62 class rule will have to follow.
Organisers are desperate to get more teams in the Cup after the last challenger series in San Francisco featured just three teams with one of them, Artemis Racing, totally uncompetitive after their training tragedy. That left Team New Zealand to dominate Luna Rossa and go on to race for the Auld Mug.
But now the two teams who saved Oracle's blushes in San Francisco – and two of the best syndicates in modern Cup history - are being overlooked for the potential of unproven outfits with late challenges from Asia likely to emerge if the new rules are adopted.
Coutts is unrepentant.
"While some teams would prefer a smaller change that wouldn't result in such significant cost-savings, the majority believe it is better to take a bolder step that will work for this edition of the America's Cup and for future editions as well," Coutts said.
"We're trying to take as big a step as possible to reduce costs now and in the future. The good news is all six teams agree we should reduce the size of the boats to save money. However there is still some debate as to the size of the boat we should adopt.
"When it comes to cost-reduction, size matters. Under 50-feet, real savings kick in on all levels: design, boat-building, sailing team and operations, so that's why we're looking at this range."
Team New Zealand have government funding at risk with an injection of public money key to their AC62 campaign and reliant on securing the challengers series in January 2017 to generate return revenue through tourism and having the teams based in Auckland for several months.
But that looks set to disappear as well with Bermuda flexing muscles to host the entire regatta, as is the norm, backed by the European teams who don't want the added expense of coming south to New Zealand.
Ironically, if the changes are rushed through as expected, Team New Zealand can still remain competitive with the budget cuts likely to see them have enough private sponsorship to mount a competitive challenge.
And with smaller cats, they have aces in the pack with the likes of their Australian helmsman Glenn Ashby acknowledged as the best in the business in mulithulls.
The frustration for Team New Zealand, and particularly Luna Rossa, is the constant changes that are going on with this edition of the Cup.
Always a political minefield, the Cup now appears little more than a play thing for Coutts and his boss Larry Ellison whose grand visions continually need to be downscaled to reality.
As usual, that comes with bending the rules.