America's Cup: What Oracle can do to catch Team New Zealand

Oracle have scope to make changes to their foils as they attempt to close the gap on Team NZ.

Oracle have scope to make changes to their foils as they attempt to close the gap on Team NZ.

As the America's Cup takes a break for the next five days, all eyes are on Oracle Team USA to see what they have up their sleeve to pull off another miracle comeback against Team New Zealand.

While Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill declared nothing was off the table in their bid to erase the 3-0 series deficit, with certain "one design" elements limiting the alterations they can make, the defenders do not have the same luxury to make changes as they did to great effect in San Francisco four years ago.

The rules covering the design and constructions of the hull, crossbeams and the wing shape and size have all been defined.

So what can they do? Here are four key areas of improvement Oracle are likely to target if they want to keep hold of the Auld Mug.

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Team New Zealand skipper Glenn Ashby (rear) has been using a mystery black box to control the wingsail.

Team New Zealand skipper Glenn Ashby (rear) has been using a mystery black box to control the wingsail.

The key area to generating more speed. But, while building new foils from scratch is out of the question - they take 80 days to complete and require up 15,000 pieces of carbon fibre, according to Oracle trimmer Joey Newton - there is some scope for modification. Teams are permitted to make unlimited changes of up to 10 per cent of the daggerboards (which usually pertains to the tip), while they have four chances to make alterations of up to 30 per cent. It will be a race against time to make significant modifications but Newton said they had spare parts available to speed up the process. "We have a few of these plates and we will be trying them this week to find some speed."

While teams have to follow the same design for the size and shape of the sails, they can change how they control them. Team NZ is the only team that does not use ropes to control the wing, with skipper Glenn Ashby instead manipulating it with a mystery black box, dubbed the 'Playstation', which appears to have played a key role in their ability to sail at a higher point into the wind. Spithill said during Sunday's (Monday NZ time) post-race press conference they would be open to copying elements from Team NZ and this may be an area they want to analyse. "You're allowed to do quite a lot of significant changes to not only the appendages but the control systems, the set up of the wing; the list is so long and we've got opportunities," he said.

In 2013, Oracle's bold decision to replace tactician John Kostecki with Sir Ben Ainslie while trailing 4-0 proved to be a masterstroke. Of course, unless there is a drastic last-minute rule change (this is the America's Cup so it cannot be ruled out), we know Ainslie will not be coming to the rescue. Their ability to make changes has also been limited by the reduction of the crew size from 11 to six members. This means if someone new is brought into the afterguard, unlike Ainslie he will have to have the brawns to match the brains to help with the grinding work. Spithill and his right-hand man, tactician Tom Slingsby, are unlikely to be going anywhere but the skipper has said they have enough depth to bring in fresh faces if required.

Regardless of any improvements Oracle make, it may not be enough if the winds fail to pick up on Bermuda's Great Sound. Team NZ have dominated in winds between 6-14 knots, with their 'kinky' light air foils giving them a clear edge in speed. If there is a team that won't be getting ahead of themselves it is the Kiwi syndicate. But with the early forecast for this weekend's looming races predicting a range of between 5-11 knots, the signs do not look promising for Oracle.

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The statistics from day two of the final showed how much the defenders have to make up. They were short on speed in every department and had to sail more metres to reach the finish line.

RACE THREE (NZ won by 49s)

Upwind speed: NZ 26.12 knots, US 24.59kn
Downwind speed: NZ 30.44kn, US 30.40kn
Average speed: NZ 28.50kn, US 27.66kn
Maximum speed: NZ 39.79kn, US 41.73kn
Distance sailed:  NZ 16,925m, US 16,926m
Tacks: NZ 9, US 10
Gybes: NZ 5, US 8

RACE FOUR (NZ won by 1m 12s)

Upwind speed: NZ 25.05 knots, US 24.25kn
Downwind speed: NZ 29.67kn, US 29.24kn
Average speed:  NZ 27.38kn, US 26.70kn
Maximum speed: NZ 38.51kn, US 36.35kn
Distance sailed:  NZ 17,841m, US 18,458m
Tacks: NZ 10, US 10
Gybes: NZ 6, US 8

 - Stuff

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