America's Cup: 'No silver bullet' for Oracle in race to catch Team New Zealand

Could the America's Cup be slipping away from  Oracle and Jimmy Spithill?

Could the America's Cup be slipping away from Oracle and Jimmy Spithill?

No one is ruling out another miraculous comeback from Oracle Team USA but the international sailing media are united in the opinion that there will be "no silver bullet".

After losing the first four races of the America's Cup to trail 3-0 in the first-to-seven series, the defenders have five days to find an answer to Team New Zealand's dominance before racing resumes on Saturday (Sunday NZ time).

While the Kiwis have shown a clear speed advantage in the light winds, which are expected to continue in Bermuda this weekend, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill remains confident they can bounce back.

During Sunday's post-race press conference, Spithill stated on several occasions that Oracle had been in this situation before, referring of course to the 2013 America's Cup when they recovered from 8-1 against New Zealand to retain the Auld Mug.

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But even taking into account such a lengthy break during the middle of an America's Cup match, the move to the one-design AC50 class, which prevents modifications to the basic hull shape, wing profile and weight, among other elements, limits their options to make changes.

Richard Gladwell, the New Zealand editor of Sail-World, pointed out that Oracle's eureka moment of 2013 came with their ability to foil upwind, which Team NZ had no answer to.

"There is no silver bullet to be had in the 2017 America's Cup - the AC50s foil upwind and down," Gladwell said. "Foiling gybes and tacks are the norm."

Gladwell said that any improvements Oracle make will come from some probing analysis rather than a single big change, with Peter Burling's starting technique a good place to begin.

"That is what happened in the tail-end of the 2013 America's Cup where Oracle Team USA's coaches came up with a counter to Dean Barker's game plan at the starts - with the Kiwis either being bested at the start or copping an umpire imposed penalty for their shortcomings," he added.

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Also on Sail-World, seven-time America's Cup veteran Paul Cayard said there was no doubt Oracle, backed by businessman Larry Ellison who has an estimated fortune of US$55 billion, had the financial and human resources to make gains

But he questioned whether they had enough time.

"The Kiwi foils and wing combine to generate 7-10% more speed around the race course over the American boat," Cayard said.

"Do the Americans know what to do exactly to improve, and can they get it done in five days?"

New York Times journalist Christopher Clarey highlighted the extraordinary opportunity Oracle have to regroup. However, he dismissed the conspiracy theory that it was a deliberate ploy by the defenders to make up for lost time.

"Nobody stops the NBA Finals for five days between games," Clarey wrote. 

"It is a rarity in the venerable America's Cup, too, but the scheduling gap was announced long ago with the intention of making the most of weekend television coverage and the weekend crowds in Bermuda."

Clarey agreed that Oracle have been hamstrung by the one-design elements of the boats and, while they can make changes to the daggerboards, it would be a highly complex process.

And unlike 2013, they do not have Ben Ainslie to ride to the rescue after the star British sailor played such a pivotal role in defending the trophy.

"Now, with Ainslie gone to his own team, the Oracle skipper, Jimmy Spithill, and the team's deep-pocketed owner, Larry Ellison, will have to rely on other extreme measures in hopes of again turning the tide against the Kiwis," Clarey said.

Oracle may have no shortage of resources but, as Sailing Scuttlebutt's Craig Leweck wrote, time is one luxury they cannot afford.

"To grow this America's Cup, the Defender purposely closed this knowledge gap," Leweck said. 

"The boats are now the same. The wings are now the same. The only differences are the foils and systems… all decisions that take months and months to develop and master. If Oracle Team USA needs to make a change, they have five days."

 - Stuff

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