The Louis Viutton Cup was created in 1983 for two reasons: To produce a worthy challenger for the America's Cup, and to provide that challenger time to hone their skills as a team as they prepare to face the defending champion.
With Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Challenge preparing to face off in the Vuitton Cup Finals beginning Saturday on San Francisco Bay, it would be difficult to say either team has gained much from a competition that involved only three teams, one of which — Artemis Racing — didn't even participate in the round-robin due to a deadly accident during practice and was promptly swept in the semifinals.
Over the past decade, the creation of the round-robin series had been necessitated by the large number of participants — the 2007 installment featured 11 teams vying for the chance to advance.
That was before a new class of boat — the 72-foot catamaran, which for the first time in America's Cup history has boats hydrofoiling above the water and achieving speeds over 40 knots — forced many would-be competitors to step away from this year's event.
"We are disappointed," said New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, who won the Vuitton Cup in 2007. "The America's Cup the last few editions has always been a large number of teams challenging. When you're one of the challengers, you want the best possible racing, and on the other end of it, the best team gets through and has a good chance to beat the defender. The issue this time is the boats are incredibly complex and expensive and they're not an easy undertaking."
The new technology had created an extra gap between the two remaining teams, with Luna Rossa still sailing its first generation of the AC72, while New Zealand has moved on to an updated version.
"The boats aesthetically look very similar, but there are quite a few differences," Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper said. "For sure if we had the opportunity to redesign things then a lot of things we'd have done quite differently. You can imagine there are things they did slightly differently with their second boat."
New Zealand handled Luna Rossa with little trouble each time the two squared off in the round-robin series, and it remains to be seen whether the Italian team has progressed enough as a team to make up for what it lacked in the earlier round.
The Vuitton Cup Finals will take place Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, with two races each day until one team wins seven times. Should the series go the distance, the 13th race would be Aug. 30. The winner goes on to face Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup Finals beginning Sept. 7.