SoftBank Team Japan opted for a radically different course to other new teams seeking to challenge Oracle Team USA in this month’s 35th America’s Cup.
Unlike Britain’s Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France who built their own boats from scratch, Japan bought their design from the U.S. holders of the cup.
Led by former Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, the crew is the first Japanese flagged challenger since 2000 and sponsor SoftBank has set its sights on “becoming the first Japanese team to win the America’s Cup”.
Under the protocol for the oldest trophy in international sport, challengers can buy a basic design packages for the one-design 50-foot (15 metre) foiling catamarans.
Getting an America’s Cup boat on the water, let alone competing with Oracle Team USA and Artemis Racing which are both backed by billionaires, costs tens of millions of dollars.
And although Japan’s close ties to the U.S. defenders have raised some questions over independence, skipper and CEO Barker says they operate separately on key areas of designing and configuring their catamarans.
This model is held up by the America’s Cup organisers as a way for more hopefuls to mount challenges.
SoftBank Team Japan also gets expertise in aerodynamics, instrumentation, simulation, composites, structures, hydraulics and data analysis from Airbus, the European plane maker and “innovation partner” to both teams.
Another factor giving Japan a “home” advantage is that they have based themselves in Bermuda with Oracle Team USA since they were founded in 2015.
The knowledge they have gained of the winds and conditions of Bermuda’s Great Sound is also a potential advantage for tactician Chris Draper and the crew.
There are three Japanese members of the team, with its general manager Kazuhiko Sofuku competing in his fourth America’s Cup, while Olympic sailor Yugo Yoshida and rower Yuki Kasatani make their debuts.
The proximity to Team USA may also give Barker, who was dramatically beaten in the America’s Cup in San Francisco by the U.S., better insight than anyone into the defender’s weak spots.
Barker has all to play for after he was dropped by New Zealand following their 2013 loss.
If he can beat them to become challenger, he will not only have earned himself a chance for revenge but an opportunity for SoftBank to fulfil Japan’s ambitions to win the “Auld Mug”.