The America's Cup is famous for its phony wars and the leadup to this edition has been full of them. DUNCAN JOHNSTONE tunes into Team New Zealand for a reality check as racing finally starts.
Team New Zealand are taking nothing from the significant speed advantages they have shown over Italians Luna Rossa when they line up for the first challenger's race of the America's Cup regatta in San Francisco tomorrow.
The starter's gun is the reality check for thousands of man hours and millions of dollars. Who has got it right will become apparent very quickly.
The Kiwis have had it all over their design and training partners in the buildup to the event, both in Auckland and on the tricky San Francisco Bay.
With Luna Rossa having a first generation New Zealand boat, there's a perception that Dean Barker's crew should streak away over the opening rounds of the Louis Vuitton Cup.
In one training video from the race venue, the Kiwis are seen giving the Italians a handy start, then mowing them down and embarrassingly overtaking them with ridiculous ease.
But TNZ tactician Ray Davies warns that as usual with the America's Cup, things aren't always what they seem. And it's the unseen that has Davies and his team-mates wary of Luna Rossa.
The Italians have some new foils for the real event and those dancing shoes are tipped to give them new speed and some pretty slick moves.
"You definitely can't underestimate Luna Rossa even though they are in our version one boat," emphasised Davies.
"In a sense, the boat is a platform and where the speed is, is the appendages under the water. With some of their new board designs . . . and if they get those designs right . . . they will be faster than us.
"The platform is a structure to hold it all together. The gains are what you do with your appendages and your wing, and they have had free rein to do what they like.
"They have made adjustments, as we have. We have moved on from our first boat a bit and so have they . . . until we line up in a proper race we won't know who has got it right or wrong.
"Obviously we are happy with where we sit so far, but we haven't really seen their new appendages yet. They might have nailed that one.
"We do respect them and their sailors, there is a lot of know-how in their team. Their new kit will be the key to see what they have come up with."
The other reality is that TNZ have had more time in their boats. They are ahead of all the syndicates in that crucial area and that has shown with their teamwork and what they are squeezing out of their equipment.
Their foiling is superior to that of their opponents to the point where they are confidently gybing while having the hulls out of the water.
But again, Davies warns that racing will bring the best out of their opposition. The challenge for New Zealand is to keep ahead. Luna Rossa have the ability to make big gains in the virtually meaningless round-robin where just the Kiwis and Italians are involved while third challengers Artemis try to get their second boat up to speed on their own.
Similarly defenders Oracle have two months of in-house racing between their two AC72s to fine-tune their game ahead of the America's Cup match, which starts in early September.
The tight course and the speed of these boats mean direction changes will be plentiful - and crucial.
"Yes, manoeuvrability is a big part of it. We have had it further up the to-do list than the other teams but we have got a whole lot of racing coming up and that gives all the teams a chance to sharpen their skills.
"I imagine we'll hit the first couple of races with a bit of an edge in that department over Luna Rossa. But they are going to get better and better over the next couple of months and at the end of the day, it's the finals of the Louis Vuitton when you have got to be sharp to make sure you are going to be the challenger."
Davies has a similar take on Oracle. Their October training capsize was costly, not just in monetary terms but also in training hours, where they have had to work by themselves.
But with Larry Ellison's millions and Sir Russell Coutts' know-how, they have the assembled a world-class crew and refined their designs to give themselves a decent chance of holding on to the Auld Mug.
"They have a bit of time and now they are sailing two boats we will be able to see them in a racing scenario.
"We have seen them in a straight line and there's no doubt they are quick in a straight line. They have got a lot better at their manoeuvres . . . they used to be pretty ropey with their tacks and gybes and bearaways.
"It will be really interesting to see them race around the course. We've only seen them do a couple of manoeuvres at a time and then they stretch their legs and do longer runs.
But right now it's Luna Rossa in New Zealand's sights and understandably, there are nerves as crews wait to see who has the speed advantage.
"There's so much at stake . . . the years and man-hours that have gone up in it. But until you line up in the same conditions, you don't really know.
"Touch wood, we have made some smart decisions and we can keep it going and have no silly whoopsies on the water."
- Sunday News
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