America's Cup 2021: Race director Iain Murray confident kinks are ironed out for challenger series

America's Cup race director Iain Murray predicts good sailing conditions for the first day of serious competition on Auckland's Waitematā Harbour and Hauraki Gulf on Friday.

Three challengers - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, Ineos Team UK and NYYC American Magic - begin their campaign for the 'Auld Mug', racing among themselves for the next month, until one progresses to take on Emirates Team NZ.

While all four teams had a chance to show their abilities in the world series regatta before Christmas, they will have upped the ante in the meantime, making big improvements in their bid to gain an edge over their rivals.

Murray forecasts 12-15 knot southwesterly winds for the first two Prada Cup races, similar conditions to the world series, when Course C was utilised between North Head and Bastion Point.

"The weather looks like a very nice day," he says. "Saturday looks a little bit trickier - it will be southeast, going quiet and then coming back from the west, maybe northwest.

"That's going to be a little more challenging for us and then Sunday looks to be a northerly breeze. We expect we may have to wait a little bit on Saturday, but indications are we will have good sailing breeze on all three days."

While the world series was sailed in brilliant sunny conditions, the winds eventually played havoc with racing, as they died over the final two days.

The AC75 foiling monohulls proved tricky to keep on their foils in light airs and the Christmas Cup climax to the build-up regatta was eventually called off, after Team NZ could not complete the course within the time limit to beat Team UK.

America's Cup organisers have six courses designed to capture whatever wind conditions prevail and crews will have learnt from three more weeks practicing off Auckland.

Luna Rossa in action during the America's Cup World Series
Luna Rossa in action during the America's Cup World Series. Photo credit: Photosport

Perhaps the most frustrating days' racing came after organisers were forced to move the boundaries of Course B - between East Coast Bays and Rangitoto Island - trapping onlookers within the outer limits. Racing was delayed 90 minutes, until the spectator fleet cleared.

"A lot of work has gone on with that, particularly in communications with the public," says Murray. "There are new things like the perimeter application, which is available on America's Cup website.

"By downloading that and clicking on, it will show where you are on the racecourse. We've been trialling that over the past couple of days.

"It was really the fickle winds that caused the problems on that day, and I think we have a better understanding of the racecourses and what these boats can do, how fast they are, how many laps it takes to do the 25-minute target racetime."

Australian Murray has an old-school reputation in the sailing community. He contested the 1983 America's Cup challenge aboard Advance and watched countryman John Bertrand lift the trophy off the Americans for the first time.

Four years later, he won the defender series against three other Aussie boats, but could not stop Dennis Connor reclaiming the Auld Mug off Fremantle.

In 1995, he was aboard One Australia, which sank during the challenger series, but his team recovered to eventually lose to Team NZ with their back-up boat in the final.

Murray, 62, has acted as race director at San Francisco 2013 and Bermuda 2017, and seems to view the new-fangled foiling craft with some degree of skepticism.

"Everything is new," he admits. "The boats are new, and we see exciting young crews and exciting boats.

"Over the past couple of days, we've seen them come together, going away from pre-Christmas, and coming back with thoughts and strategies and tactics. I'm starting to see the match-racing of old and aggression of the start come to the surface.

"There's a lot of equality within the boats in terms of speed and certainly the fundamentals of match-racing look like they will be on the table. It's exciting - it's what brought me back to the sport 40 years ago, except it's going about 10 times faster than it used to."

Join us at 3pm Friday for live updates of the America's Cup challenger series