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Team New Zealand and Italian syndicate Luna Rossa have won their protest against America's Cup design changes being pushed through under the safety recommendations.
The International Jury ruled in their favour today, backing up the challengers' protests that the changes to rudders couldn't be made against the Class Rule without the unanimous approval of all teams.
Those changes were among 37 recommendations rushed through by the regatta organisers under a "safety" banner to get the race permit from the United States Coast Guard following the tragic training accident in May that cost Artemis Racing sailor Andrew Simpson his life.
It's a significant victory for both Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa who had argued the design changes were performance-related rather than safety-related and contravened the rules.
It's a blow for America's Cup defenders Oracle who were hoping to use the larger rudder elevators to help with their foiling struggles. They will now have to go back to the original specifications.
Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said he was "pleased" with the outcome.
"The jury's decision leaves the sanctity of the class rule intact. We believe the jury's decision does not affect the substance of the safety plan," Dalton said.
Both the Kiwis and Italians have shown their ability to sail the giant catamarans swiftly and safely on the original designs.
The decision casts a shadow over the future of Swedish challenger Artemis who have been building their second AC72 under the safety recommendations.
They intimated they might not be able to compete if the jury decision went against that because they wouldn't be able to build another set of original rudders.
Artemis said they were "disappointed" with the jury decision, believing it left "uncertainty" over their future.
It also remains to be seen how the coast guard reacts to the developments.
Team New Zealand offered a lifeline to both those tricky equations.
"We have proposed that when Artemis is ready to race they be given dispensation from the Class Rule regarding rudder elevators so long as they otherwise comply with the Class Rule and the safety recommendation. This would require the consent of the other competitors and we would strongly urge this be given," Dalton said.
"Artemis Racing is making a tremendous effort under difficult circumstances to get back on the race track and deserve support to help them achieve this."
"Emirates Team New Zealand will fully support the regatta director in his efforts to run a safe regatta and to this end would welcome the opportunity to meet with the US Coast Guard and the regatta director to clarify any adjustments which may need to be made to the safety plan."
Oracle's immediate reaction was supportive of the latest development.
"We respect the decision of the America's Cup Jury," Oracle general manager Grant Simmer said.
"We continue to support the regatta director and we believe all teams have benefited from his review. We don't have an issue complying with the Class Rule, and we will be ready to race under the rules affirmed by the jury."
Regatta organisers also fell in line with the jury decision.
Both the America's Cup Event Authority, organizers of the land-based aspects of the competition, and America's Cup Race Management, responsible for the on-water sporting competition, said they respect the International Jury's findings.
"This means racing can continue if the teams abide by the existing Class Rule and the Safety Rules," said America's Cup Event Authority chief executive, Stephen Barclay. "If the teams take this step, it will ensure the safety plan remains intact and the U.S. Coast Guard marine event permit is unaffected."
Regatta director Iain Murray didn't seem perturbed to have his actions over-ruled by the jury and was pushing on to keep the event afloat.
"I am immediately reaching out to the coast guard and the teams," Murray said.
"Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa are complying with both the AC72 Class Rule and the safety rules. Artemis Racing, who is still preparing its AC72, has previously advised that they can not immediately comply with both. Exactly how this decision impacts Artemis Racing is something we need to look at through our discussion with the teams."
"My focus remains squarely on the safety of all the competitors in all of the teams."
Team New Zealand have already had two solo races on the course this week without any problems, impressing observers with their speed and efficiency.
Team New Zealand will now finally have a real race on Sunday against Luna Rossa.
Luna Rossa had earlier decided to stay out of the action until the result of their protest to the International Jury was revealed.
But the Italians released a short statement before the jury decision was released, saying: "Team Luna Rossa Challenge 2013 has decided to continue its participation in the races of the 34th America's Cup."
That's good news for the regatta and an essential element for the Louis Vuitton Cup series where the leading challenger needs match-racing action to prepare for September's showdown with Oracle for the America's Cup.
Luna Rossa completed a solo "race" today without Artemis to claim their first championship point.
With the wind blowing between 13 and 15 knots, helmsman Chris Draper guided the silver AC72 around the 12.07-nautical mile course in 28 minutes, 58 seconds.
The Italians chose to sail the five-leg course, shorter than the 16-mile courses that Team New Zealand sailed.
They had one anxious moment.
Illustrating the complexity of the AC72, Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said a $1 fitting nearly prevented them from racing their multi-million dollar catamaran.
"We had a small issue with the daggerboard system on the right," Sirena said.
"A $1 piece could've compromised the race, but at the end we managed the breakdown. The little breakdown could've compromised a foiling jibe or even some tacks, but the goal was to finish the race and I'm pretty happy about that."
- © Fairfax NZ News