SAN FRANCISCO — The head of America’s Cup challenger Emirates Team New Zealand accused defending champion Oracle Team USA of cheating in the latest controversy in sailing’s premier regatta.
“You can’t actually get to any other point than the fact they were cheating,” Emirates Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton told the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday. “I think it’s really serious.”
Oracle Racing last week admitted it modified its boats without permission of the Measurement Committee during four regattas in the America’s Cup World Series, a warm-up to this year’s regatta. Those regattas were sailed in 45-foot catamarans, which were prototypes of the 72-foot catamarans being sailed this summer in the Louis Vuitton Cup and then the America’s Cup match.
The international jury is investigating and could punish Oracle with a fine, forfeiture of races or disqualification from the America’s Cup. Any punishment would be another smudge on already troubled regatta.
The best-of-17 America’s Cup match begins Sept. 7 between Oracle and the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers. Emirates Team New Zealand faces Italy’s Luna Rossa in the best-of-13 Louis Vuitton Cup final starting Saturday.
Oracle and regatta officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Oracle Team USA CEO Russell Coutts admitted last week that someone with the syndicate illegally placed weights in the bows of all three of its 45-foot catamarans during the America’s Cup World Series, without the knowledge of management. One of the boats was loaned to British Olympic star Ben Ainslie, who is sailing with Oracle Team USA this summer.
Coutts said it was “a ridiculous mistake” because the weights “didn’t affect the performance.”
Oracle forfeited its victories in four ACWS regattas and its two overall season championships.
“The modifications appear to be an intentional effort to circumvent the limitations of the 45 class rule,” the America’s Cup Measurement Committee said In a report to regatta director Iain Murray.
Dalton disputed Coutts’ contention that the weights didn’t affect the boats’ performance.
“Why would you actually do it, if it didn’t make a difference?” Dalton said in an interview with The Chronicle. “Properly placed extra weight does improve the performance of the boat. Because of the design, you like the weight forward. You put one guy really far forward to keep the bow in the water.”
He called Coutts’ insistence that management didn’t know about the placement of the weights “complete nonsense.” He said he felt Oracle was trying to “snow” people with its explanations.
“It’s inconceivable that a shore crew member woke up one morning and decided it was a good idea — that management would think it was a good idea — that to make the boat faster you would put some weight in the boat, and then you’d come in to work one day and do it,” Dalton said.
He said if someone were to add weights or move them around on a Team New Zealand boat, the team would run tests to see if it would help performance. He didn’t buy the idea that rogue employees committed violations on their own at Oracle.
The violations were not discovered until July 26, when the boats were tested in preparation of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup later this month.
Earlier this year, Dalton criticized Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison, who owns Oracle Team USA, for offering a grand vision of the America’s Cup that has failed to materialize. While Ellison and other organizers once projected a dozen or so challengers, only three made it to the trials, mostly because of the steep cost of running a campaign.
One of those challengers, Artemis Racing, suffered a crippling blow when its first catamaran capsized on May 9, killing crewman Andrew “Bart” Simpson and destroying the boat. Artemis missed the Louis Vuitton Cup round-robins and was swept in four races by Luna Rossa in the semifinals.
Dalton didn’t accuse Coutts personally.
“I can only say that there’s a management failure,” he said.