Officially unveiled back on February 2 in Paris, Orient Express Racing Team, the French challenger for the 37th America’s Cup, is now very much in working order with two main priorities being fulfilled, recruitment and the launch of the build of their new AC75. Tip & Shaft gets up to date with several leading names on the French challenger.
Three and a half months after its official launch at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Orient Express Racing Team is “very much on schedule“ according to Stéphane Kandler, who co-directs the challenger with Bruno Dubois. In the management team announced in February were the founding duo Benjamin Muyl (chief designer), Antoine Carraz, technical director, Franck Cammas (in charge of performance), Louis Viat (director of operations), Thierry Douillard (coach), Caroline Muller (communication), Stéphanie Nadin (hospitality) and skipper Quentin Delapierre. Now the group has expanded.
“The big focus in recent months has been on building the team. Today there are about twenty of us we will be double that this summer when our AC40 arrives in Barcelona then we will be up to 70 in a year’s time, explains Louis Viat. We have made good progress on our recruitment, as we can say that 90% of the 70 positions have been filled.“ The priority was to recruit engineers to support Benjamin Muyl, in particular on the simulators work which is essential to understand as best as possible the French challenge’s AC40s and AC75s.
The chief designer is surrounded by his Benjamin Muyl Design team – Nedeleg Bigi, Loughlin Dudley, Timothée Fonlupt and Sébastien Nicolaïdis – and also by Hugo Stubler, data scientist at SailGP, and David Gautier, in charge of the mechatronics, electronics and IT, who comes from Sodebo. On the build side, a team of about ten boat-builders will soon be settling in at Multiplast, which is building the hull-deck assembly of the AC75, while Louis Viat, in charge in particular of the set up in Barcelona, has already secured the services of Emilie Llorens, who also works for the French SailGP team (logistics and responsible for CSR strategy) and of a shore manager, Chris Reid, formerly of SailGP and the British challenge in the last America’s Cup. Finally, Carlos Beltran supports the French on the protocol/regulations side.
The sailing team will be known in July
As for the sailors, part of the team is already formed. “We have already selected our grinders [there will be four of the eight crew members on board the AC75, Ed note], confirms Quentin Delapierre, without revealing how many or indeed their names. The selection was made mainly on physical tests at the national sailing school of Quiberon, because we need to develop a given power. We have a bit of all profiles: cyclists, athletes who come from rowing, but also from the world of sailing, it’s good to have a feeling for the sea in this role.”
The rest of the sailing team will be known “by the end of July so that we can be operational as soon as the AC40 is delivered in mid-August”, assures the skipper, who then specifies: “The work on the simulator developed by Benjamin Muyl will allow us to test the different afterguard configurations and therefore to clearly identify the profiles of the athletes we are going to choose.” Will Kevin Peponnet, Matthieu Vandame and François Morvan, who sail with Quentin Delapierre in SailGP, be there? “It’s too early to say but there’s a good chance that these three names will end up with me on Orient Express Racing Team, because they have incomparable experience in France on this type of boat“, replies Delapierre.
The SailGP circuit remains a priority goal in its own right for Quentin Delapierre and the French team after recently finishing fourth in season 3, pending the arrival of the AC40, Sail GP being the best way for the team to continue to master flying at very high speed, although a week-long training course in Lagos in GC32 is also planned before heading to Chicago for the season 4 kick-off (June 16-17) . “The rest of the time, we will spend sailing the likes of foiling Moths and sessions on the simulator which will be decisive in allowing us to learn the AC40 before we first actually sail the boat”, explains Quentin Delapierre. “The simulator is essential to prepare for proper sailing and the data analysis routines to be put in place, especially for a team like ours on which no-one sailed in the last Cup”, adds Franck Cammas, who currently divides his time between the Imoca of Jérémie Beyou and the French challenge which he will join full time at the end of the year.
Women and youth in the mix now
Knowing that the first of the two Preliminary Regattas are scheduled for the second half, of this season in Vilanova i La Geltru (south of Barcelona) and are coming quickly (September 14-17). The second will take place in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), without American Magic, due to the terrorist threat. The French challenge has not yet given up on the the idea of sailing before next year on a chartered AC75. “It’s still under review but we still don’t know how it’s authorized, it’s more complicated than it looks, especially for legal reasons“, comments Stéphane Kandler, without saying any more.
Delapierre also took part in the selection of the youth and female crews which will take part in the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup in September/October 2024, a first for women’s competition. This is a twin project for Team France which, after having organized a selection in mid-April at the Quiberon’s national school – sailing in ETF26 and Birdy Fish, physical tests, interviews, media workshops -, unveiled a list of 9 women and 8 youths at the beginning of May reduced to 6 for each crew at the end of the year. On the program for them all is training in the ETF26 and GC32 on the boat belonging to Team France, but also racing in 69F, with the participation of the women’s team in the first Women Foiling Gold Cup at the end of August on Lake Garda and Act 3 of the Youth Foiling Gold Cup in Kingston (Canada) in mid-July.
As for the learning the AC40, the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup class, it will probably not be before the beginning of next year. “The absolute priority is the main team [of Quentin Delapierre, editor’s note]”, explains Thibaut Derville who, with Louis Romieux, oversees the Youth and Women’s project for Team France, the duo being assisted by Charles Dorange. Thibaut Derville adds: “The rest of the program is a question of budget allocation and the schedules of the athletes, knowing that a certain number are in full Olympic preparation.” Team France, which does not receive a specific budget from Orient Express for this double program, “but aid in kind for communication, training“, specifies Thibaut Derville, is looking for partners to complete an unspecified budget.
The AC75 expected in May 2024
In addition to recruitment, the other major priority for Orient Express Racing Team in recent weeks has been to launch the build of the French AC75 which has just started from the design package purchased from Emirates Team New Zealand, which is surrounded by considerable discretion on the part of those we spoke to, the subject remaining very sensitive and obviously scrutinized by the other challengers. “The manufacturing of the tools has begun,” explains Antoine Caraz, “Building the hull, the deck and the structures should take from the end of June until October at Multiplast, before the start of assembly from the beginning of November, then the boat equipment with hydraulic and electronic systems, fittings.”
The mast will finally be made at Southern Spars, New Zealand, and not by CDK Technologies, as initially announced – “for planning reasons and because they had another customer in the America’s Cup“, specifies the technical director. The appendages will be from “a local supplier, but it is not yet signed”, he adds, while North Sails France has been entrusted with the design of the sails of a boat which should be finished in May 2024.
As for the “chase-boat“ with foils and hydrogen, imposed by the Protocol, “we will communicate on it soon, there will be a great project of French hydrogen nautical sector, with this chase-boat at the base”, comments Stéphane Kandler. In the coming weeks the team will move from Lorient to Vannes, to the heart of the Multiplast yard, while the shore team and the sailors will settle in Barcelona in early July on a temporary base made up of 25 containers and a tent capable of accommodating the AC40, at the bottom of the Porta d’Europa bridge, in the commercial port. The final base, with a total area of 6,000 m2, will be operational “at the end of winter 2023-2024 and will come into operation when the AC75 arrives”, adds Louis Viat.
Photo: Orient Express Racing Team