What was already destined to be a difficult defense has become exponentially more difficult following a jury ruling on Oracle’s cheating during the AC45 World Series.
Saying the “seriousness of the breaches [committed by Team Oracle] cannot be overstated,” the five-member jury ruled on Tuesday that Oracle will be penalized two points, and that trimmer Dirk de Ridder, of the Netherlands, and two shore crew will be banned from the regatta. Oracle must also pay $250,000 in fines, half to a memorial fund established following the death last spring of Artemis strategist Andrew “Bart” Simpson.
The ruling means that in order to win the best-of-17 America’s Cup series, set to begin Saturday, September 7, Oracle must win 11 as opposed to nine races against challenger Emirates Team New Zealand.
Equally serious, if not more so, is the loss of de Ridder, one of the best trimmers in the world and a critical member of Oracle’s multi-year development program. Given how important the wing trimmer is to ensuring effective foiling, boat handling and overall boat speed aboard an AC72, it’s hard to imagine skipper Jimmy Spithill being able to manage the Oracle boat as well without him. According to reports, he will be replaced by the trimmer for the campaign’s second boat, Kyle Langford, who was also formally warned by the jury for his role in the affair.
At issue in the case are a number of illegal modifications made to the AC45 catamarans sailed by Team Oracle during the America’s Cup World Series leading up to the AC72 racing this summer. Specifically, it was found that weights had been added to the boats and that each boat’s structural “main king post” had been lengthened, which according to ETNZ would allow the Oracle sailors to better control the forestay tension on their boats. To see the complete jury findings, click here
In mid-August, shortly after the illegal modifications were revealed in the run-up to the ongoing Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, team Oracle withdrew “retrospectively” from the last four AC World Series regattas, in the hope it could put the matter behind itself.
However, ETNZ and Luna Rossa pressed ahead with their protest, saying the Defender had violated Article 60 of the protocol governing the 34 America’s Cup, which prohibits the competitors from doing anything that would discredit or impair public confidence in the regatta—language that was ironically inserted in the protocol to protect the event from any bad publicity.
In a statement afterward, Oracle CEO Russell Coutts said he disagreed with the “unprecedented penalties” imposed by the jury, adding: “We have no choice but to make the necessary changes to personnel on our race boat and do our best to…get ready for the start of the 34th America's Cup."
However, the reality is that Coutts and company may have actually gotten off pretty easy, with the jury suggesting in its finding that the only reason it’s punishment was not greater was a belief that the outcome of the match “should best be determined on the water” and that if it had not been for this this mitigating factor “the penalty would have been heavier.”
One thing’s for sure: this Cup is surely shaping up to be less and less like what Coutts and his boss, Larry Ellison, originally had in mind.