Ugo Fonollá / America's Cup

Ugo Fonollá / America's Cup

America's Cup 37, form guide ahead of Vilanova i La Geltrú


29/08/2023 - 13:57

The road to the 37th America’s Cup in 2024 officially begins at the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova i La Geltrú from the 14-17th September 2023 and with racing in strict one-design moded AC40s, technique will be rewarded over technology and ‘consistency’ is the mantra all around the Port Vell as the teams prepare for battle.

Ahead of the regatta, some of the teams competed in a first practice racing event to evaluate race management, media and technology in mid-August and this was the first time that the AC40’s had lined-up competitively in this America’s Cup cycle. It was an early look at form and will be followed by another practice racing event later this week with all the teams taking part. The importance of these races, whilst not an accurate assessment, provides some early clues ahead of Vilanova i La Geltrú and it’s clear from the on the water action, that all teams are taking these races seriously and evaluating their speed and technique.

When Vilanova i La Geltrú starts, the six AC teams will race eight fleet races which promises to be a crowded start-line with a premium on finding and holding a lane off the start line before locking into the first shift and clear air. Tactical boat positioning will be everything whilst maintaining 100% flight time is crucial, and for the world’s best foiling sailors, none of whom want a bad opening regatta, the racing is going to be super tight.

Ugo Fonollá / America's Cup

Here we look at the very early form and assess who is expected to do well in Vilanova i La Geltrú:

Emirates Team New Zealand: The very fact that the Kiwis took delivery of the first AC40 and enjoyed a maiden sail on the 20th November 2022, plus the fact that they are the Defenders of the 37th America’s Cup, puts the team firmly as the benchmark team to beat. Peter Burling has formed a brilliant helming partnership with Nathan Outteridge whilst the team has adopted a consistent team selection policy in their Flight/Trim Controllers with Blair Tuke and Andy Maloney sailing both the AC40 and AC75 regularly.

Two-boat AC40 training in Auckland concluded at the end of May 2023 with the established team being pushed hard by Josh Junior and Leo Takahashi where the team explored some aggressive starting moves attempting to get the other boat off the foils with vicious luffs in the final pre-start sequence. After the journey up from New Zealand, the Kiwis have switched between AC40 and AC75 training, refining their windward heel low-riding technique upwind and low VMG running downwind. The team to beat, they will be marked heavily from the outset.

INEOS Britannia: A productive winter of training in Palma saw the emergence of Giles Scott as a stand-out helm, most likely to be paired with Team Principle Ben Ainslie. The addition of International Moth World Champion Dylan Fletcher-Scott brought additional firepower and competition to the afterguard selection process whilst Ben Cornish impressed mightily in testing scenarios on both their LEQ12 prototype T6 and the AC40.

Ugo Fonollá / America's Cup

The team’s concentration has been on developing their AC75 raceboat nicknamed ‘RB3’ but this is a team with serious talent to burn as they proved against the Kiwis in the pre-event racing. Ainslie’s competitiveness flows through the team, Giles Scott’s enormous talent is undeniable and on race days they are a match for anyone. Reduced time in the AC40 may be their undoing but the British have proven that when it matters, they can deliver. Vilanova i La Geltrú will give the team a great opportunity to perfect foiling race-craft and as Challenger of Record with incredible coaching staff and resources, they are one to watch.

NYYC American Magic: A brilliant winter of training in Pensacola, Florida and the addition of Tom Slingsby, the undoubted foiling generation superstar, has propelled NYYC American Magic high in the rankings. The promotion of Paul Goodison to helming partner, a three-time International Moth World Champion in his own right (Slingsby has two world titles), has seen the Americans conduct extensive two-boat AC40 testing at pace but it’s the depth of their settled squad that is most impressive. Lucas Calabrese, Andrew Campbell, Riley Gibbs, Michael Menninger plus the next generation in Harry Melges and Severin Gramm have all been pushing hard to make the starting line-up for Vilanova i La Geltrú, keeping the team honest and deep into the data. In the pre-event against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, the team impressed with first class boat positioning and inherent speed upwind and great technique downwind. Should have a very good regatta – lots of expectation.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: The team with helming talent in abundance, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli has enjoyed the most impressive winter training from their base in Cagliari in their LEQ12 and have looked sharp when training in their AC40 in Barcelona. Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni are the likely starting helms, bringing their experience from AC36 to the Preliminary Regatta, but Marco Gradoni and Ruggero Tita have looked rapid in both the LEQ12 and AC40.

Ugo Fonollá / America's Cup

In the pre-event test racing, the Italians looked sharp on the water with excellent time-on-distance and magnificent Flight Control and trim from a pool of top-class sailors including Vittorio Bissaro, Umberto Molineris and Andrea Tesei. Despite their obvious focus on development with their LEQ12, and Jimmy Spithill’s insistence that they are underdogs going into the first Preliminary Regatta in recent interviews, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli are expected to show well in Vilanova i La Geltrú and will bring all their experience and training to bear. The team to watch for sure.

Alinghi Red Bull Racing: Arguably the most exciting and dynamic team to watch in this America’s Cup cycle, Alinghi Red Bull Racing have been on the steepest of learning curves since launching their campaign in August 2022. Arnaud Psarofaghis has proven to be a stand-out leader of the sailing team and has formed excellent partnerships with both Maxime Bachelin and Nicholas Charbonnier whilst the coaching of Dean Barker, Pietro Sibello, Phil Robertson and Jason Waterhouse has propelled the team forward. Bryan Mettraux and Yves Detrey have been sensational in the Flight Control and trimming positions and will be key to success. Two-boat training in the team’s AC40s has been electric to watch with no quarter given and this is a team full of youthful enthusiasm tempered with experience within the team that could show very well in Vilanova i La Geltrú.

Orient Express Racing Team: The great unknowns for Vilanova i La Geltrú, the French are attempting to fast-bridge a large gap in monohull foiling experience having only taken delivery of their AC40 in mid-August. However, this is a team brimming with both talent and experience of some of the best foiling sailors of present and past generations. Quentin Delapierre and Kevin Peponnet are no strangers to top-flight international foiling competition whilst the trimming/Flight Control pool is strong with Matthieu Vandamme, François Morvan and Jason Saunders all vying for positions. Franck Cammas, Head of Performance, will be eyeing a lot of learnings from Vilanova i La Geltrú and for sure, they will take scalps along the way, particularly as the AC40s are all set up in one-design mode. If the French can sneak a lead, they will be hard to beat but time in the boat, could well be a deciding factor in the overall standings. 

Ugo Fonollá / America's Cup

Conclusion: Vilanova i La Geltrú will, for sure, be a desperately close regatta and it’s the two teams that can deliver ultimate consistency over eight fleet races that will then contest the match-racing final where a very different skill-set will be required. Everyone will be watching technique and close-quarters manoeuvres eagerly and we could well see different sailing styles being adopted and adapted by the teams. Expect all the AC40s to be low-riding upwind and watch out for the downwind trimming as the teams all make best use of any wave-forms and gusts on the course. Calling the winner is a mug’s game – who do you think will win the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova i La Geltrú?

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