Team New Zealand to face France in America's Cup opener as draw released
Team New Zealand will open their quest to win the America's Cup with a qualifying race against France in Bermuda next May.
Cup organisers have released the draw in the complicated format that gives Cup holder Oracle the luxury of competing against the challengers in the opening phase of qualification races amongst the six syndicates.
Team New Zealand will sail against France on May 26 as the first phase of round-robin qualifiers begins.
They will face Oracle the next day, followed by Artemis Racing (Sweden), Ben Ainslie Racing (Great Britain) and Team Japan.
The presence of Oracle amongst the challengers has been a contentious issue as the holders juggled the rules to allow them to get an early gauge on their opponents. Previously the Cup holder had to wait till the match for that, adding intrigue to the relative boats speeds.
Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton made that point again on Wednesday as the draw was confirmed.
"I guess the strange thing for people and really for us too is that Oracle is in those first rounds and that's no more complicated than them trying to increase their chances of defending by matching themselves up against the opposition," Dalton told Radio Sport.
"I don't know whether that happens in any other sport in the world where the finalist gets to play in the rounds, and it certainly didn't happen when Team New Zealand had the America's Cup."
There will be a second roun-robin series - also involving Oracle - before the top four challengers from the qualifiers split into two semifinals, to be decided over a best of nine races format from June 4-8.
The challenger final is also a best of nine series running from June 10-12.
The successful challenger then goes through to the America's Cup match against Oracle, a best of 13 races to be sailed between June 17 and 27.
Teams face a busy schedule with some days featuring three races.
"All the America's Cup teams now know who they will line up with in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup qualifiers, allowing them to plan their race strategies for each of their double round robin races," America's Cup Event Authority CEO Russell Coutts said
"One thing that is certain is that nobody can predict who will come out on top. That uncertainty, especially having seen how all the teams are so closely matched, shows why interest in the America's Cup is growing so quickly worldwide."
Team New Zealand this week announced the return of Steinlager as one of their key sponsors.
The Kiwis continue to make progress in testing on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour as they look to launch their actual 50-foot foiling catamaran early next year for the action in Bermuda.