[This article appeared in today's (Tuesday) New Zealand Herald, and also on the Sport Radio NZ website, after SAILING ILLUSTRATED's Editor and Publisher, Tom Ehman, was interviewed Sunday evening by Radio Sport's Mark Watson. Full story below, and you can listen to a replay of the interview on the Radio Sport website here. –MWE]
SAN FRANCISCO – America's Cup veteran and former Oracle boss Tom Ehman says Russell Coutts will be personally overseeing Team USA's bid to save the Auld Mug – but doesn't believe it will be enough to stop a "superior" Team New Zealand romping to victory.
Ehman, who has had 35 years of involvement as a "fixer" in various roles with the Cup, and is the founder and editor of Sailing Illustrated, originally predicted Oracle would defend the oldest trophy in sport 7-3 but admits he's been rocked by the Kiwis' sweep of the first four races.
"My prediction is not looking very strong right now," said the American. "On the strength of four wins in a row and also looking at the forecast, if it's light to medium winds, you gotta believe the Kiwis are going to win this."
In an interview with Radio Sport's Mark Watson, Ehman pinpointed several areas to support his contention that New Zealand fans need not fear a 2013-style meltdown when the Kiwis squandered an 8-1 lead to lose to Oracle.
When asked what chance he gave Oracle of replicating its heroic comeback feat in San Francisco, Ehman replied: "Not much, not bloody much."
"But don't count [Oracle] out. They are very, very resourceful. I was with that team for a long time. I've been involved with the America's Cup since 1980, I've seen teams that you would think were down in the dumps come back, teams that looked soft, looked weak.
"They find means of not just speed but of new techniques, new boat handling. But I don't see there's a lot Oracle can do at this point."
Ehman, a former director of external affairs for Oracle, said Coutts will already be involving himself in Oracle's rescue bid.
"Russell is still one of, if not the smartest person in the sport. Russell will be heavily involved because his boss Larry Ellison will insist that he become re-involved in the team," he told Watson.
"I saw it happen last time when I was involved in running the event and was called back at the end to help Russell with the team. This is what he is best at. Until somebody beats him, he is still the best team leader in the business.
"He will have re-engaged himself not just at Larry's insistence but of his own volition and he will be heavily involved in trying to get Oracle back on a winning pace."
But Ehman said he wasn't sure Coutts could salvage Oracle's campaign this time as there were two key areas he claimed sailing experts are yet to pin-point as a difference between the boats and which can't be fixed in five days.
"I am not surprised how fast Team New Zealand is. I am surprised how slow Oracle is," Ehman explained.
The Cup veteran said most comment had focused on the differences in foils and Team NZ's use of 'cyclors' over traditional grinders. He doubted they were the major factors for the Kiwis' 3-0 lead in the first-to-seven final.
Ehman contended Team NZ was "presenting less windage" (wind obstruction) during races and that the specialization of roles onboard the Kiwi boat was a major advantage.
"The Kiwi package is more slippery. There's less windage, it's less draggy. And full marks to them," he explained.
"The second point is that there is specialization in this boat. They have divided up the duties brilliantly, way better than the other teams.
"Pete [Burling] is just sitting back there - he's sitting, not standing so there's lower windage - he's driving the boat and he's also largely calling his own tactics.
"Sitting right in front of him is the brilliant Australian multi-hull sailor Glenn Ashby, he is trimming the wing. Upwind, downwind, light air, heavy air – all the time, and doing a great job of it.
"And unlike all the other teams, you've got Blair Tuke sitting in front of him and is obstensibly one of the cyclists but what he's doing is trimming the foils.
"But on Jimmy Spithill's boat, he is not only steering the boat, also calling some of his own tactics - he's got Tom Slingsby talking to him on the headsets, and Tom is running around the boat sometimes like a chicken with its head cut off – and Jimmy is also adjusting his foils.
"Not on the Kiwi boat. They've got specialization."
Ehman also felt Burling would be a stronger foe than Dean Barker was for Spithill four years ago.
"If you watched today's press conference, Pete looked like the seasoned pro. He looked like he didn't have a care in the world. He put a little pressure on Jimmy in fact. Jimmy looked like he was the deer in the headlights.
"Don't count Jimmy out. He is tough and strong. One thing you can count on Jimmy will come out fighting like the boxer he is."
SAILING ILLUSTRATED Editor and Publisher Tom Ehman. Photo: ACEA