Stephan Kandler

Stephan Kandler: « A great envy from Lorient »

Lorient Agglomération and K-Challenge formalized a partnership on Tuesday that includes support for the French Orient Express Racing Team challenge in the 37th America’s Cup, as well as the hosting, from early 2025, of both K-Challenge entities (Racing and Lab) in the Péristyle district. Tip & Shaft spoke to Stephan Kandler, co-founder of K-Challenge, to find out more. 

► Can you tell us how the partnership with Lorient came about?
Right from the start, the idea behind K-Challenge was to create a company with two facets based on the concept of sport-tech. On the one hand, the sporting side, K-Challenge Racing, which includes the two challenges we’re tackling, SailGP and the America’s Cup, and on the other, a subsidiary, K-Challenge Lab, which includes R&D and all the assets, including the AC75, the AC40 and the hydrogen boat, as well as software, digital simulation and so on. Accor, via its Orient Express brand, in addition to supporting the sporting side of things, became a 25% shareholder in K-Challenge Lab [the other 75% being held by K-Challenge Racing, owned by Stephan Kandler and Bruno Dubois, editor’s note]We had to find a long-term location. We looked at various options from 2023 onwards, and discussions intensified in September with cities and regions likely to host us just after the America’s Cup. We talked to the Sud-Paca and Occitanie regions, and of course Lorient and the Brittany region. Everything accelerated at the beginning of the year, and we ended up with this agreement.

► What made the difference for Lorient?
First of all, Lorient Agglomération and the Brittany region were very willing and quick to act, and showed a great deal of solidarity in the matter. Everyone understood that having the French America’s Cup team in Brittany would reflect well on the whole region. Then there’s Sailing Valley’s industrial strength in competitive sailing and technology, where we built our AC75 [at Multiplast, in Vannes]. And then there’s the fact that almost 90% of our team members live in the region. The other applications came in a little later, as there were more handicaps to overcome, and we didn’t want to outbid them.

► Does this partnership involve a financial commitment on the part of Lorient Agglomération? If so, how much is it?
It’s a financial commitment, since Lorient Agglomération is an official supplier to the Orient Express Racing Team, and as such will appear on the boats. As for the amount, I think the mayor of Lorient [Fabrice Loher, who is also president of Lorient Agglomération] will be speaking on the subject shortly, and it will be made public. Alongside this, the idea is for us to support the digital development of the city of Lorient with the Lab. We have a major project in the digital field, the details of which will be announced later.


“If we win, Lorient
will have an advantage”


► Does this also mean that if you win the Cup, the 38th edition will be held in Lorient?
If we win, Lorient will obviously have an advantage. After that, if we win, it’ll become a national issue, with other territories and partners likely to get involved. So it’s frankly too early to take a position. We haven’t guaranteed Lorient that they’ll get the Cup if we win it. But whatever happens, we’ll have our base there.

► What will be the timing of this installation in Lorient?
At the beginning of 2025, we’re going to rebuild almost identically the base we currently have in Barcelona. The Lab will start operating as soon as the America’s Cup is over, with a small group of people tasked with working on the 38th edition, but also on other projects for players who have already approached us.

► What kind of projects?
Quite a wide range of projects, mainly in ocean racing. I can’t say more than that at the moment, but our concept and our way of working are attracting interest from other players in the racing world. One of K-Challenge Lab’s raisons d’être is that the biggest difficulty with Cup projects is keeping the engineers from one edition to the next. If we continue with the next one, we’ll certainly have enough to ‘feed’ them, but not enough at the start to have them on a full-time basis. So the idea behind this Lab is to be able to keep them on while the future Cup project moves up a gear. At the same time, we’re working on the sporting side of things, since K-Challenge has become a shareholder in the France SailGP Team. The aim is to maintain the sports team on a platform at a level equivalent to that of the Cup, while providing visibility for our partners during a period of transition.


“The America’s Cup allows us to have
three demonstrators of our R&D activities”


► Will the Lorient base also host the boats?
Yes, of course it will. And that’s a major strength of the structure. The big advantage of the America’s Cup is that it allows us to have three demonstrators of our R&D activities, the AC75, the AC40 and the hydrogen foiling boat that we’ll be taking back this summer. There aren’t many platforms today on which you can work on R&D with a direct application like we’re going to have with our boats.

► Can you tell us about your hydrogen boat (compulsory for each challenge entered in the America’s Cup)?
It’s a boat designed by Philippe Briand and built in the San Lorenzo yard in Italy, using EODev technology. We first tried to build it in France, but it was a bit late, so we turned to this solution, bearing in mind that the yard had built a first prototype for the Americans [American Magic]. On the other hand, we are in the process of setting up a consortium with several companies to prepare a V2 of a boat built in France for delivery in 2025. The idea is to eventually develop 10 to 30 metre platforms for pleasure craft in the broadest sense, both private and professional, and to offer them to shipyards that have no knowledge of hydrogen and would like to add it to their catalogue. We’re also involved in a project for a slightly larger hydrogen boat, for industrial use, with major players in the maritime hydrogen sector.

► What do the two K-Challenge entities currently represent in terms of sales?
I can’t give a figure because it’s very much linked to the America’s Cup and we have confidentiality obligations with our partners, but it’s in the region of several tens of millions of euros. Eventually, at K-Challenge Lab, if we consider the company on its own, we’ll have between 30 and 60 people for a turnover of several million euros, without taking into account a Cup campaign, which is an outgrowth. With a very broad range of activities, including physical and digital infrastructure rental, boat development consultancy, training, etc., we’ll be able to meet the needs of various players in competitive sailing and maritime mobility.

Photo: K-Challenge / Aurélien Le Bourhis

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