Team New Zealand's resolve to win the America's Cup is only being strengthened by the unfolding shambles in San Francisco, with Grant Dalton vowing, "this will not happen on our watch".
After a nonsensical 24 hours that added another distasteful chapter to the Cup's already chequered history, an irritated Dalton made it clear that Team NZ now see regaining the Auld Mug as a personal crusade.
The Kiwis are desperate to bring the cup back to New Zealand and restore its credibility by imposing smaller budgets, more sensible boats, and a regatta free of the latest legal wrangles that are sinking the 34th edition before it even starts.
Frustrated and angry by the latest dramatic developments, with Luna Rossa threatening to not start tomorrow's challenger series opener, Dalton refused to get into a sniping match with the Italians and his bitter Oracle rival Russell Coutts.
But he agreed the cup had lost much-needed credibility, and he promised Team NZ would use the latest debacle as motivation and to retain focus.
Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand are protesting a late change in boat design rules based around new rudder dimensions they claim are illegal, and favour defenders Oracle.
The Italians announced yesterday they would not sail until their protest is heard. The Kiwis look set to sail the course solo tomorrow to collect a point they clearly value - and then front the jury.
The "Fiasco in 'Frisco" is quickly wearing thin with Dalton, but he repeatedly emphasised his team wouldn't be distracted from their quest to win back the cup
"They can throw whatever at us . . . we have got to be ready for Oracle in September, we have got to beat Oracle in September . . . then we get our chance.
"I can tell you that this will not happen on our watch," Dalton said as he did the international media rounds seeking the Kiwis' response to the Italian standoff.
Dalton was disappointed in Luna Rossa's approach, revealing a private phone call to skipper Max Sirena emphasised the Italians were serious about their threat. But he did not directly criticise a rival syndicate the Kiwis have had a close association with, and with whom they, ultimately, share a feeling of being shafted.
"Luna Rossa have told me they aren't pulling out (of the regatta). They are making a statement at the moment. They have a great team. They are good guys, they are straight, and you have to look quite hard to find straight people in this game at the moment," Dalton said.
He admitted huge frustration and felt the regatta was "off the rails".
"Does it annoy me? It seriously pisses me off. But we can only control what we can control.
"It's completely ridiculous, totally ridiculous. But what do we do? Do we shut up shop and go because it's ridiculous? Or do we go, ‘we are only here for one reason, the America's Cup, and focus on the job'?"
Dalton wants to bank the necessary three points against Luna Rossa quickly - even the "cheap points" like tomorrow offers - so his team can then refocus on the development of the boat, put on ice as they worked through the adjustments required under the extensive new safety regulations over the past month.
"I'm just frustrated, because we have done everything by the book. We may get penalised for getting ahead of the game . . . good old Kiwi ingenuity has come to the fore here.
"Really, in the end, we just want to go racing and we want to ultimately race against Oracle . . . who are probably sitting down their in their compound laughing like drains at this because this doesn't affect anything they do until September, and we have to deal with this now in July."
The Italians made no apologies for their threat, which came when the four competing skippers fronted a media conference held as a day of time trials and a ceremonial sail had to be cancelled because winds were above the 20-knot limit set by the regatta organisers.
That embarrassment was nothing compared to what unfolded at the press conference.
"We just feel it's unfair and against our principle what is going on," Sirena said. "It's not related to politics. People can say whatever they want. We are here to race, but we want to race with fair rules. We don't have to accept change of the rules one week before the race."
Coutts took a shot at the Italians, accusing them of "acting like spoiled rich kids dressed in Prada gear". Sirena fired back later: "He can say what he wants. He's way more rich than me, trust me."
It's doubtful the Italians will change their minds unless the protest is moved forward. That didn't seem likely, with cup organisers tight-lipped on why the jury couldn't convene earlier. Reporters were simply told the jury "sets its own schedule".
- Sunday Star Times
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