Ellison wants Formula One-like America's Cup

LARRY ELLISON: Oracle's billionaire owner with the Amercia's Cup.
LARRY ELLISON: Oracle's billionaire owner with the Amercia's Cup.

Larry Ellison wants an America's Cup final in Hawaii at the end of a worldwide Formula 1-style qualifying series.

The American billionaire who has bankrolled Oracle to the last two cup successes, wants to take yachting's greatest spectacle around the world in a system akin to motor racing's grands prix, that will include a regatta in New Zealand.

Ellison has outlined his hopes to San Francisco journalist Julian Guthrie, the author of his book on winning sport's oldest trophy.

While Oracle and Australian-based challenger of record Hamilton Island Yacht Club continue to work through the protocol for the next event, Ellison has made it clear that things will change dramatically.

He believes the best way to introduce new countries to the competition is to have meaningful races in 45-foot catamarans - the AC45s - as a qualifying system.

These would happen around the world through 2015 and 2016. Ultimately the top four challenging teams would qualify for the Louis Vuitton Cup final to be sailed in a new 60-foot catamaran class in Hawaii. The winner of that would face Oracle for the America's Cup in Hawaii.

Ellison owns the island of Lanai and would love to see the big dance in the Pacific state.

But nothing is settled in terms of the final venue and Ellison stressed that his sailing chief executive, Kiwi Sir Russell Coutts, was in "earnest talks" with San Francisco, San Diego, and Newport, on the United States east coast, as possible hosts of the finals.

Change seems certain and if Team New Zealand can find the money to continue being involved, racing will certainly be brought to Auckland as part of the AC45 series.

Ellison would like the entries racing in two divisions. An Atlantic division could cater for France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland. The Pacific Division could have teams from Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and San Francisco, USA.

After sailing regattas around the world where points accumulate, Ellison would like to see the teams race their division finals in the Port of Rome (Atlantic) and Shanghai (Pacific).

"We're going to start with two years of globe-trotting, Formula 1-style racing in AC45s," Ellison told Guthrie.

"AC45s are inexpensive to build, transport, and sail. You can throw an AC45 and its support equipment and chase boats into a couple of containers and ship them to regattas all over the world: Shanghai, Tokyo Bay, Marseilles, the Port of Rome, anywhere.

"The previous practice of going to only one city, Auckland or San Francisco or Valencia, and being in the same location for months at a time is not the best way to get fans all over the world excited about our sport.

"It should be more like Formula 1, where you have races all around the world and all of the races count toward the championship.

"People want to see Team China racing in Shanghai and Team Japan racing in Tokyo Bay. Now that's exciting. But we have to keep the costs down to make sure that there is a Team China and a Team Japan.

"We plan to have AC45 races in every country where we have a team: Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia; Shanghai, China; Venice, Italy - 12 cities in 12 different countries.

"The TV coverage should be stunning. Look at the AC45 regatta we held in Venice a couple of years ago. It was beautiful."

While last year's cup racing in San Francisco, where Team New Zealand lost the final to Oracle, changed the face of the America's Cup with the high-speed catamarans, it was acknowledged that the budgets - more than $110 million - were not sustainable.

Costs meant only three challengers turned up, with Sweden and Italy joining New Zealand.

Ellison's vision then was for at least 12 syndicates to be involved, and in those terms the last cup was a disaster. He's adamant his latest plans can change that.

"To race an AC45 all over the world in 2015 and 2016 plus an AC60 in 2017 will cost each team as little as US$30m [NZ$35.4m] all in," he said.

Ellison was adamant that the America's Cup could transform sailing, though changes needed to be made.

"We want to keep the best of the past and combine it with modern technology," he said.

"We want to create a 21st-century sports business that will support sailing professionals and their families.

"Businesses that don't make money are not sustainable. Sports that don't make money are just hobbies for rich guys."

Fairfax Media