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Red Bull Racing Plunges Into America's Cup Design and Tech Competition

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Red Bull Racing began its campaign in earnest on August 8th to challenge for America's Cup by splashing their AC75 racing boat into the waters of Port Vell in Barcelona, Spain. The city will host the 37th America's Cup, set to kick off in September of 2024.

That's right, the team will compete for a trophy, known as the Auld Mug, which is awarded to the winner of the oldest still operating competition in international sports.

The competition was first held in 1851 and hosted by the Royal Yacht Club of Britain with a race around the Isle of Wright. The 53-mile race was won by a 101-foot (31 meters) Schooner called 'America' owned by syndicate members from the New York Yacht Club. The Auld Mug would later be named after the first winner of the competition.

As I read the 130-plus words I had just written, it dawned on me that I did not use the term 'sailing'....and that's the point. America's Cup competition is not a sailing competition by any stretch. It is simply a design and technology get-together at sea where the winner is determined by the best-designed watercraft and the team's ability to use technology to finish a course ahead of all other competitors.

Beginning with the last Cup competition in 2021, the crafts used are no longer referred to as sailboats, but 'foiling monohulls'. Impressive as they are, sailors do not wear helmets!

The competition, held every three-plus to four years, is an undertaking reserved for the super-rich with mounds of disposable income, hungry for a place in history. There is no money to be made, the winner gets a 171-year-old mug/cup and the honor of hosting the next event.....that's it!

Sure, there are sponsors to court to help fund the endeavor that pay big bucks to have the names and logos emblazoned on the sails (which are actually vertical wings). Each craft has approximately 2,500 square feet (232 square meters) of billboard space for advertisers to promote their wares. You will not find Joe's Bar-b-cue logo because the space is reserved for big boys such as Oracle, Ineos, Prada, Emirates, Omega, and Pirelli.

It's understandable for tech companies to be involved as the crafts are controlled by technology. There are likely more IT guys aboard a foil than true sailors. No longer, is it necessary to rely on instincts and experience to judge the timing of a wind shift, a computer will determine weather events; even sail 'wing' trim is computer-aided. One has to wonder what Pirelli has to do with foil racing other than the desire to promote their brand.

Big money is also paid by host cities to the defender who is afforded the ability to choose a host based on their possession of the cup/mug. Oftentimes, just as in the Olympics, the host is chosen by the money they are willing to pony up. It is big business for the host as well; 2021 host Auckland, estimated the event contributed over $1 billion (974 million euros) to the local economy however, New Zealand lost $156.1 million (152 million euros) on hosting the event.

In order to mount any sort of reasonable challenge to the defender of the cup, one must invest hundreds of millions of dollars to design and build a craft and hire a team or syndicate as they are called, to support the effort over the course of years. The mono-hulls can range from $12 million (11.7 million euro) to $18 million (17.5 million euro) and syndicates often have two.

Sailing has given way to foiling, relying on computer-generated strategies to deal with weather conditions versus the skills a sailor has honed over years at the helm. This writer has really never understood the human need to race a sailboat anyway.

It never has been about the destination for me, but the journey.

 
 
 
 
 

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