America's Cup 2021: Team New Zealand's 'whomper' sail could prove secret weapon in light-air racing

Don't buy into the talk that Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli hold a significant advantage over Emirates Team New Zealand in light-air conditions.

That's the opinion of America's Cup guru Mark Orams, who says the Kiwi crew may have a secret weapon to combat the Italians' perceived pace.

Luna Rossa have consistently had the best-performing boat in lighter air throughout the pre-Christmas world series, the challenger series and Prada Cup final, while the holders have struggled in similar conditions. 

And with a maximum of seven knots forecast for Friday afternoon, Luna Rossa appear to hold the advantage.

Enter 'The Whomper' - a specifically designed sail, similar to a gennaker, to help push Te Rehutai downwind in light air, when sailing in displacement mode (off the foils).

"That's a sail that has been designed for the risk of a really light-air race, where you get stuck and can't fly, and you need a little more power to get you down the race track to make the time limit," Orams tells Newshub.

"There is a risk of falling off the foils [below seven knots] and we saw a little bit of that in the Christmas Cup. 

"A boat can catch a period of breeze and pull out a few hundred metres in no time, and then complete a manoeuvre into no air and then the other boat comes back. We could see a bit of that cat-and-mouse game, if the air is light as forecast."

And Orams believes Team NZ's smaller foils could bring a speed advantage in all conditions - not just upper wind levels.

The Kiwi boat looked quicker in a straight line on Wednesday in conditions up to 15 knots and Orams isn't writing off that transitioning to lighter air.

"The foils are very different in design and configuration. The general consensus has been that the Luna Rossa foils are slightly better suited in lighter winds.

"However, Team New Zealand have worked hard in the last few months on their lighter-wind performance and just because their foils are smaller, it doesn't necessarily mean they will be slower in the lighter air. 

"It does mean they will be a little more vulnerable in turning, but inherently, smaller foils in a straight line have less drag and are therefore faster.

"It remains to be seen, but I wouldn't make the assumption that Team New Zealand will be slower in lighter air than Luna Rossa."

'The Whomper' in action
'The Whomper' in action Photo credit: Image - Livesaildie

Wednesday's racing saw the two teams split victories, with passing appearing near impossible.

In the last 14 races, only one pass has been made - by Luna Rossa against INEOS Team UK during challenger racing. 

Orams expects more of the same, especially if the wind is above seven knots, meaning the start becomes the pivotal moment of each race.

"These boats are so evenly matched," says Orams. "We are getting to a point now that unless someone makes a mistake, the boat in front can keep control.

"The thing that allows them to do that is the boundary. It's very unusual in sailing to have an artificial boundary that forces you to tack and come back to the middle. 

"That means the leading yacht knows exactly where the opposition is going and when they will be forced to come back, so they can keep bouncing them out to the boundary and control the race. 

"I think the pattern we have seen in the last month continues, which means it all comes down to the start, because it is so difficult for the trailing boat."

Join Newshub for live updates of the America’s Cup between Team NZ and Luna Rossa from 4:15pm.