Teasers and Tea Leaves

At the first America's Cup World Series of 2016 in Oman, AC teams use the practice races to show where they stand in the pecking order.

America's Cup World Series

America's Cup World Series Oman practice races

In the opening no-count practice races in Oman, light air fleet and match races displayed the importance of weight placement and pressure hunting. Over the should of Oracle Team USA's Jimmy Spithill, Artemis Racing's crew reveals how they intend to keep their high-drag foils out of the water.© ACEA 2016 / Photo Ricardo Pinto

The America’s Cup is a trophy constantly on the move and its latest stopover is in the Sultanate of Oman – the first time it will have been raced in Middle Eastern waters. The world was made more aware of the influential choosing factor at a pre-series briefing when it was announced that the racing on Saturday and Sunday, when three races are planned for each day, would have to “fit into that all-important television time.”

The practice day, however, was different in many ways. For the first time in AC35 there was hope that match-racing would figure, but only “if the teams want to do it.” There was every indication that the teams did indeed wish to practice in this discipline. The request for it came from the teams. Two fleet races were scheduled and there was a new-boy in the role of skipper. While Franck Cammas is almost fully recovered from the ankle injury he sustained when he fell from a GC32 at speed, he is not sufficiently mobile to steer Groupama Team France. “I still need a couple more weeks for that,” he said with some regret, “but Adam (Minoprio) will do a good job.”

There was something prophetic about that. The race was held in a streaky breeze that topped out at 5 knots, and strength rather than direction of the wind was the most important factor. Minoprio grabbed the start and was first to the turning mark, followed at some distance by Nathan Outteridge with Artemis, Ben Ainslie with Land Rover BAR, and Dean Barker with Softbank Team Japan.

By the bottom gate the French were still ahead, trailed by the Brits and the Kiwis, who had made a smart move on the left side of the field. Ainslie led at the weather mark gate followed by the French and the Kiwis, but on the run to the finish positions changed faster than current interest rates. At the line, Artemis beat Softbank with Groupama third, followed in order by Oracle, Land Rover BAR and Emirates Team New Zealand – all overlapped.

Minoprio nailed the second start and bolted, the rest were strung out in line astern. By the bottom mark, Groupama was still in front and elected to go left, into the breeze that had brought her down the leg faster than her rivals. But that side didn’t pay and upwind Outteridge, in better breeze took the lead for Artemis Racing, rounding the weather gate ahead of Jimmy Spithill with Oracle. Then came Ainslie and the BAR team followed by the French, ETNZ and Softbank.

The three leaders held their places, giving Artemis two wins in the day for best boat on 20 points (they don’t count in the series score). The rest of the finishing order was Oracle Team USA, Land Rover BAR, Softbank Team Japan, Groupama Team France, and after fouling two boats, Emirates Team New Zealand.

Following the fleet racing practice, by request of the competitors, there were two rounds of match racing in increasingly difficult conditions. There was one basic rule which all should have followed – when ahead, cover your opponent. Letting the boat behind sail a different course several times brought about a change in the order. Nothing was at stake apart from personal belief.

The breeze was anything but steady in strength and direction and place changing was frequent and the winners of the respective six matches had Emirates Team New Zealand, Artemis, Softbank, Groupama and Land Rover Ben Ainsle Racing. Only the defender Oracle Team USA returned to the dock winless.

Official racing in the America’s Cup World Series, starts on Saturday and will consist of three races on each day with the points on the second day doubled. It will need the assistance of the competitors to aid the race officials the necessary discipline to enable this amount of racing to take place.

America's Cup World Series

America's Cup World Series Oman

While Oracle Team USA remained consistent in the practice day's fleet races, the team came up short in its match races.© ACEA 2016 / Photo Ricardo Pinto