Jimmy Spithill: Sizing up the America’s Cup competition

17 March 2017• Written by Jimmy Spithill

Oracle Team USA shipper Jimmy Spithill points out that the teams have plenty to learn from each other, and plenty to gain from working together toward a better future...

Now that we’re into 2017, the focus is moving on to Bermuda. We’ve already done a lot of testing and training here, as well as racing against some of the other teams. Obviously, we’ve got some measure of the challengers from the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, and they know quite a lot about us, too.

I’ve been asked how much I think you can take the results from the World Series as a form guide. Certainly you can up to a point. The Brits (Land Rover BAR) winning the series indicates they’re competitive. Having said that, and having observed their technical program and the time they spent preparing for the World Series at the cost of development, I’m not convinced they are the favourite coming into this challenger series.

Spithill has developed a fierce rivalry with Land Rover BAR skipper Sir Ben Ainslie (right)

I think a lot of the other teams have been running pretty good development programs. New Zealand is looking very strong given how little time they’ve spent compared to a team like BAR. For example, as of the end of 2016, we hadn’t seen BAR do a foiling tack. Team New Zealand, Artemis, Japan, ourselves, we’re all doing the manoeuvre quite regularly. And as I said before, the foiling tack is going to be one of the key make-or-break moves.

I believe the technical program and the work that all the teams have been doing at their respective bases is the real form guide. That’s what will decide who wins the challenger series.

The fact that we know as much as we do about each other is a big change from the way the America’s Cup used to be. When I did my first campaign with Young Australia for the 2000 Cup in Auckland, there was no World Series, there was no racing or lining up. Just endless in-house testing and training behind closed doors (except for us on Young Australia!).

You would do these four-year campaigns, and for three years, eight months or so, you wouldn’t say anything to anybody else. That just doesn’t make sense from a sporting or commercial point of view because you can’t generate any value from those years.

Oracle Team USA has been very open about its training regimen

Beyond those considerations, some of the biggest lessons come from being pushed by another team. We see that all the time in Bermuda. Whenever we do a lot of training in-house, sure, we learn a lot. But when you race another team that has different concepts and ideas, you see different techniques and that’s when you make some huge jumps.

It’s been a real benefit for us, Japan and Artemis being based here. Just before Christmas, BAR sailed here with their test boat and are now based here full time. The French team has recently joined us, too.

Nowadays, people have the ability to see pretty much anything they want live and instantaneously. In my opinion, if you stayed in the dark ages, if all the teams did their own thing, you’d just drop off the map, and eventually the game is lost for the next generation. Sailing has to evolve and move forward.

Five of the six America's Cup skippers announced a new framework in January

That’s also why all the teams have been meeting up off the water, such as we did in January when we announced a new framework agreement, which gives a clear vision for the future of the America’s Cup.

What can typically discourage a new team from joining in is not knowing what the rules are for the next event and critical details like what boats we are using and when the event will be held. That’s why it’s so crucial to have these points in play and why a lot of the teams have been working to pull something together because we need a good plan, regardless of who wins. We need a framework in place so that we know the format.

What remains open for the new Defender to decide is the venue, and I think that anyone who wins has the right to decide that. But other aspects, like the class of boat, the format, timing, can be pre-agreed. That’s a huge step going forward and prevents momentum from stalling following a Cup cycle.

For the Defender, this means giving up a certain amount of control. But you’ve also got a bigger responsibility to the event’s future and the wider sport. I give Larry Ellison, Russell Coutts and our team a lot of credit for having the foresight to see the bigger picture for some time now. Ultimately, what we’d like to do is leave the game in a better place for future generations.