Following on from yesterday's article, today we focus upon the XXXI running of the America’s Cup, and in particular the nine syndicates who, in October, will commence racing for the right to challenge Team New Zealand, the holders of the America’s Cup.
Yesterday we brought you an overview of the racing format of the America's Cup, the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger Series, and the history of the world's oldest sporting trophy.
All of the syndicates now firmly rooted in the spectacular Viaduct Basin in Auckland, New Zealand and have each faced a long and arduous path to even get to the venue of the Louis Vuitton Trophy. As varied as their approaches may have been in budget, personnel, resources, and skill, they all share one thing in common, the desire to wrestle the America's Cup from the defending syndicate. All are backed heavily by some of the world's richest and most influential characters, people who share this one desire, and who are not used to losing anything.
Based in Auckland Harbour, around the viaduct basin, or more specifically, along Halsey Street, there are ten enclosures, each one housing one of the ten syndicates. Situated incredibly close to each other, each compound represents, in many ways, the dreams of nations, and the professional pits of the ten racing syndicates.
Alinghi Swiss Challenge
Located in Base 5, the largest of the syndicate compounds, many regard the Alinghi Swiss Challenge to be the main threat to the dominance of Team New Zealand. This is mostly to do with the fact that, on the culmination of the last Cup, Team New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts left to join syndicate chief Ernesto Bertarelli, and become a challenger for the Cup. With it he took many of the Team New Zealand crew and, with a budget reported to be in excess of $70 million, began a well planned and financed challenge. Representing the Societe Nautique de Geneve, their home outside New Zealand is on the French Mediterranean coast and with Rolf Vrolijik heading the design team, whichever of their two boats (SUI 64 and SUI 75) they end up using, they will be very strong Louis Vuitton Cup contenders, and are in with a real chance of taking the America's Cup to Europe.
Le Defi Areva
This syndicate have had a roller coaster ride to the start of the Louis Vuitton Cup, including protesters damaging their first new boat shortly after its launch. They still managed to build two boats and with the $35 million budget revolving principally around Areva, the French nuclear energy providers, have set up home in Base 10 in Auckland. Some pundits are predicting they will have an early exit from the event, but with the skill of such people as Luc Pillot, who has recently been named as skipper and tactician, it would be unwise to underestimate this challenge.
Luc Pillot has spent nearly 20 years on the international sailing circuits, being a bronze medallist in the 1984 Olympics and gold medallist in the 1988 Olympics in the 470 class. In match racing, he is a three-time French Champion, has twice placed second at the World Match Racing Championships and was European Champion in 1999. He won the Tour de France à la Voile in 1998 and 2002 sees his eighth year on the ISAF World Match Racing Rankings. Also forming the afterguard will be Philippe Presti at the helm and Philippe Mourniac navigating.
The smaller of the two Italian Syndicates (the other being Prada), this syndicate is the only one running a single boat campaign. Representing the Reale Yacht Club Canottierri Savoia, they are looking at this challenge as a fact-finding mission for the future. With a smaller budget than many others of $20 million, Paolo Cian will be the nominated skipper with a predominantly Italian crew. Giovanni Ceccarelli as his first forage into International America's Cup Class (IACC) design designed their boat (ITA 72). Mascalzone Latino is located in Base 3 in Auckland
One World Challenge
Having recently been docked one point even before racing has begun in Auckland for breaking the America's Cup protocol, this syndicate will have it's work cut out to make up the deficit. However, with ex-Team New Zealand designer Laurie Davidson on board the team, their boats will be fast. Skipper Peter Gilmour knows that when it comes down to racing, his match racing experience will see them in excellent form. Located in Base 4 and representing the Seattle Yacht Club, their $75 million budget came principally from cellphone magnate Craig Mcaw, and Paul Allen, co founder of Microsoft. Not the only software company backed syndicate; OneWorld is reckoned to reach the semi-final of the Louis Vuitton Cup at least.
Oracle BMW Racing
Backed by Microsoft rival Larry Ellison, Oracle BMW Racing, representing Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco, have at $90 million one of the largest budgets of any syndicate. With legendary designer Bruce Farr working on their boats and Peter Holmberg as skipper, this is a well-funded, well-prepared team. The biggest question yet to be answered is that Larry Ellison himself may well steer the boat during the Louis Vuitton Cup and become the most legendary owner/driver ever. This syndicate could well be on the road to great things and are worth watching. They are set up in Base 2 in Halsey Street.
Representing Royal Ocean Racing Club, GBR Challenge is Great Britain's first return to America's Cup racing since 1983. Primary backer is Peter Harrison whose sale of communication company Chernikeef, has principally backed this challenge.
Double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker is nominated skipper and with New Zealand born David Barnes heading the sailing team anything could happen. With a limited amount of America's Cup experience within the syndicate, it may be that this is the first of future challenges and as such little is really expected of them. But with a wealth of sailing talent, and some heavyweight designers including Jo Richards, if the boats are fast then we could well see some of the more experienced teams being upset. They are installed in Base 8 in Auckland.
Team Dennis Conner
The Veteran America's Cup sailor, Dennis Conner was both the first person to lose the America's Cup, and only the second American to win it. Representing the New York Yacht Club and with Ken Read as skipper of the boat, the combined experience of the syndicate could surprise the bigger spenders. Two boats (USA 66 and USA77) represent designs by Jim Reichel and Jim Pugh and although USA 77 sank some weeks ago, damaging the bow section, a new one has been built and is currently being fitted onto the rest of the hull in Base 11 in Auckland.
Current holders of the Louis Vuitton Cup, the Italian Prada Challenge lost the America's Cup 5-0 to Team New Zealand in 2000. With a $70 million budget and representing Punta Ala Yacht Club, syndicate owner Patrizio Bertelli has a strong commitment to skipper Francesco de Angelis. Star sailor Torben Grael also joins him on the boat and with two America's Cup campaigns under their belt, Prada have a strong chance of facing Team New Zealand in the XXXI America's Cup Match. They are located in Base 1 in Auckland
This Swedish challenge represents Gamla Stans Yacht Sallskap and is a return to America's Cup racing after two decades. They appear to have a fast boat in the Mani Frers designed SWE 63 and with Swedish Match racing talent at an incredibly high level, could do very well. Their Budget of $50 million came from the late Jan Stenbeck, telecommunications giant, who sadly died on 19 August this year. There is much emotion in this syndicate and with both ISAF Ranked Jesper Bank and Magnus Holmberg on the boat; their progression will be monitored carefully. They are located in Base 9.
William Hill bookmakers in London have released the following Odds of each syndicate winning the America's Cup:
Team New Zealand (NZL) : 3-5
Alinghi Swiss Challenge (SUI) : 5-1
Prada Challenge (ITA) : 7-1
Oracle Racing (USA) : 8-1
Oneworld Challenge (USA) : 10-1
Team Dennis Conner (USA) : 12-1
Victory Challenge (SWE) : 51-1
GBR Challenge (GBR) : 51-1
Le Defi Areva (FRA) : 101-1
Mascalzone Latino (ITA) : 126-1
Team New Zealand
Holders of the America's Cup for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Club since 1995, Team New Zealand lost many of their key crew to the Alinghi Swiss Challenge after their emphatic 5-0 victory against Prada in 2000. This said, it is not a foregone conclusion that the Cup will leave New Zealand next March.
Their strongest feature is a depth and wealth of talent that will be hard to match, as highlighted by new skipper Dean Barker's helming of the last race in 2000. Backed primarily by German software giant Hasso Plattner and featuring Tom Schnackenberg, arguably one of the best IACC designers ever, as design chief, Team New Zealand is very much hungry for the Cup.
Whoever comes out on top in the Louis Vuitton challenger series and then ultimately the America's Cup, this year's event is certain to be one of the closest and most exciting ever.