America's Cup cuts challenger race programme following death of Andrew Simpson


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The Independent Online

The America’s Cup has taken another body blow with the publication of a much reduced programme of elimination races following the death of British gold and silver Olympic medallist Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson.

Even then, much of the schedule, especially in July, contains races that are unlikely to take place, leaving just five that month expected to last no more than hour each. The number of projected rounds robin has been reduced from seven to five, ending on 1 August.

The newly published schedule continues to include the Swedish challenger Artemis, for whom Simpson sailed until he died in a training accident on San Francisco Bay. Artemis ceo Paul Cayard says he hopes the team will eventually be able to take part in the Louis Vuitton Cup to find the eventual single challenger to meet the holder and defender, the locally-based Oracle Racing USA team.

But he said the new boat would not be launched “for a few weeks”, and that he hoped the boat would be ready to race at the end of July, which America’s Cup Race Management knew before it published the revised schedule.

That leaves the other two challengers, Emirates Team New Zealand and the Prada-backed Italians in Luna Rossa to hold the stage, averaging just over one race a week. They would be able to train as well.

In theory, the rest of August would be given over to the Louis Vuitton semi-final and final, but if Artemis is still unable to race or is damaged again then the position would look bleak.

It is also very difficult for the spectators, some of whom have paid either for season tickets or hospitality packages, to make plans, unless they include tours of the west coast, the vineyards, or the Rockies, between races.

The races for the cup, spawned by a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851, won by a group from the New York yacht Club in a yacht called America, which gave the event its name, are due to start on 7 September. The ambitious programme calls for a best of 17, first to nine wins, over the next 14 days, a tall order given the complexity and maintenance demands of the 72-foot wing-powered catamarans.

They are designed to bring excitement and spectacle as much to the non-sailing audience as the established followers. Many of the established followers, dubbed the flintstone generation by the event’s architects, led by four times cup winner Russell Coutts and his owner/backer, Oracle computer software boss Larry Ellison, have been losing interest.

The new audience, identified as the facebook generation, has been slow to develop, apart from crash rubberneckers watching the 45-foot versions of the catamarans cartwheeling. But the television schedule has also been trimmed and, for the European audience, the racing takes place in the late evening, assuming the wind conditions on the day fit the tighter restrictions introduced after the crash was investigated by a review panel.

The timeframe of three years, from when Coutts won the Cup from Switzerland’s Ernesto Bertarelli in Valencia in 2010, has been very short for the introduction of such extreme equipment. This was made worse by rules, imposed by Oracle and agreed by the Swedes as Challenger of Record, which restricted testing and training time.

A hoped-for 12 challenging teams has been reduced to three, not least by the huge cost, over €100m., to mount a challenge with any hope of winning. Until Artemis turns up on a start line in anger, that is down to two, both vulnerable to damage.