Dalton promises not to repeat Cup errorsSave
Unshackled from public funding, Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton has pledged not to take a backward step during the upcoming America's Cup campaign, and promises not to repeat the mistakes of their capitulation in San Francisco four year ago.
Specifically, he's hinted that his organisation is keeping one or two innovation surprises up its sleeve for later in the regatta.
Team New Zealand's disastrous result in the 2013 previous event has gone down in sporting folklore, as the Kiwis amassed an 8-1 series lead, but were becalmed as Oracle Team USA won eight races to retain the "Auld Mug".
In the aftermath, Dalton copped most of the blame for the result, including the decision to promote himself onto the boat as a grinder and also to take a rest day that seemed to let Oracle back into the contest at a crucial juncture.
Dalton has told Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch that much of the criticism was based on "myths and legends", but he had deliberately taken a lower profile this time round, promoting skipper Glenn Ashby, helmsman Peter Burling and trimmer Blair Tuke as the faces of the campaign.
America's Cup has always been just as much about the off-water shenanigans as the on-water racing and one week out from the 2017 Louis Vuitton challenger series, Dalton is clearly bracing himself for battle.
"We won't take it down those traditional lines - the nasty lines - but I can absolutely assure you, if someone takes us there, we're ready for whatever form that may take," he told Veitch.
"One of the things I believe now, with no government money, we are really just a private organisation and if someone attacks us, I don't feel a public obligation to hold back. We won't provoke, but we will defend any attack.
"In the America's Cup game, the longer you stay in it, you realise how some people want to play it and you can only match fire with fire. We hope they don't, but if they do, we'll deal with it at the time."
Former TNZ weather analyst and NZME America's Cup analyst Mark Orams has suggested Dalton must continue to "lead from behind" or he risks putting further pressure on his young crew.
But with former Team New Zealand skippers Sir Russell Coutts (Oracle) and Dean Barker (SoftBank Team Japan) now deeply entrenched across enemy lines, it seems just a matter of time before the first salvo is fired.
Relations haven't been exactly cordial up until now and that tension is clearly about to crank up a level or two.
"We've had to fight pretty hard in the background to even he here," said Dalton.
"Oracle didn't want us in this America's Cup, there's no doubt about that.
"I can be convivial. It's like Snoopy and the Red Baron - they still had Christmas together, didn't they? - but I try not to put myself in those situations.
"It's different for guys [on the crew], but when I run the organisation, I run by my set of rules and I have zero interest in fraternising with the opposition. I want to beat them, I don't want to be their friends."
Perhaps one of the biggest blunders on San Francisco Bay was putting all of Team New Zealand's cards on the table way too early. When the other teams saw them foiling in practice, that opened up a whole new world of possibilities for everyone and as Oracle made their decisive drive to victory, TNZ seemed to have nothing left to offer.
"I'll always use the analogy of a sprinter in the final of the Olympics, where he doesn't leave anything in that sprint - it's all he's got," Dalton said.
"We just didn't have anywhere to go.
"This time, you won't see us at our best at the very beginning."
Team New Zealand have already revealed their use of cycle grinders to generate more power, and other teams, including Oracle, have had a chance to consider and test that technology themselves.
"We held back for that reason, there's no doubt about that. That was why we went to extreme lengths, from a secrecy point of view ... that was the last date we thought we could hold it to and still develop it.
"But the cycling system that went into the boat in Auckland when it first went sailing is not the cycling system that's in the boat now ... it's not even close.
"That was all aluminium that we could change shapes and place and pedals and gearing and everything. Now it's a totally carbon fibre, hand-built, precision-engineering piece of kit."
Dalton thinks much of the expected improvement will result from teams learning more about their between their boats, their environment and their rivals, as they spend more time on the water.
But he's also hinted there are more innovations to come.
"There are a couple of specifics that are quite different and they might still have some improvement in them. They look right, they feel right, they're doing what we hope they will do and they've tested well."
"Cycling is one of them, obviously, and we're very comfortable with that now, but there are others. Will they win it ... I just don't know yet."
One of the biggest advantages Dalton believes Team New Zealand has in its favour is its Kiwi-based culture and the new-look line-up on the boat. Apart from Ashby, who was Barker's helmsman in 2013, this crew carries little of the baggage from four years ago.
"I wouldn't subscribe to the fact that we succumbed to pressure in San Francisco at all, but I certainly feel a lot more comfortable with these guys who have won gold medals and know what pressure is."
Burling and Tuke are reigning Olympic 49er champions, and have won 13 world titles between them, while Ashby has 15 world titles to his credit. Cyclist Simon van Velthooven was an Olympic bronze medallist in the kierin and fellow grinder Joe Sullivan took rowing gold at the London Olympics.
"They go to work on a Thundercat, which is an out-of-control, rubber boat with a 50 horsepower engine that they leap all the way home on.
"It's that can-do, devil-may-care attitude and they can win," said Dalton. "It's energy to be involved with them and I get a real kick out of it.
"I'm not sure the scars of San Francisco are really the issue ... I think it's a new energy and it was time."
America's Cup commentator Peter Lester has already compared Burling, 26, with Coutts, as New Zealand's greatest ever all-round sailor, but Dalton is just as excited by his combination with Tuke and Ashby.
"One of the things about Pete is he's very analytical and mechanically minded. He lives and breathes sailing, he doesn't have six kids and a mortgage, he just wants to be fast and doesn't want to compromise.
"Therein lies a danger in a big organisation, where those guys with a predetermination for speed can be detrimental to a big team, if it's not managed ... with 75 other guys who might want to go home tonight to get some sleep."
NZ Herald's Dana Johannsen will be on the ground in Bermuda, covering the America's Cup for NZME, and you can catch live blogging of races, featuring former Team New Zealand weather strategist Mark Orams, on nzherald.co.nz.