Eight top quality teams have signed-up so far for 2008 iShares Cup and with the Extreme 40 catamaran fleet now numbering 14 boats, there is potential that even more will make the start line of the five iShares Cup events, which begin in Lugano, Switzerland, on May 30.
The entry list reads like a Who's Who of sailing, bursting with the very best skippers and crews in the sport. America's Cup sailors will be lining up against Olympic medallists, ocean racers, and world champions, all coming together on the unique iShares Cup sailing circuit.
With the next America's Cup looking set to take place in multi-hulls, the Swiss Defender Alinghi will be putting their cat-sailing skills to the test in this year's iShares Cup. America's Cup-winning helmsman Ed Baird has been putting in plenty of training in the Extreme 40 with the Alinghi crew in Valencia. Even this multiple world champion admitted that the powerful catamarans can be pretty challenging: 'It was hard at first - going down from 17 to just four crew, but after the initial learning curve it got to be pretty exciting!' He compared the spectator-friendly iShares Cup city courses to recent America's Cup racing close to the shore in Valencia, saying: 'It's a good kind of racing for the sport to have, as the shorter the race the more evenly matched the boats are.'
TEAMORIGIN, the British Challenger for the next multi-challenger America's Cup, will also be lining up in the series. Current iShares Cup champion Robert Greenhalgh, who skippered the winning boat on last year's circuit, leads the team. Rob is joined by his brother Peter, a top skiff sailor and part of the 2007 winning Extreme 40 crew, as well as other key members of the British Cup squad.
This year's series has also drawn double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson back to the Extreme 40, having competed in two events at last year's iShares Cup. 'Last year really whetted my appetite, but this year's going to be a bit different with the pro teams really upping the ante,' she explained. 'I love the boats and am really looking forward to going sailing on them again.'
Shirley will once again take the helm of JPMorgan Asset Management, showing her mettle as the sole female skipper on the circuit.
Also making a return to the circuit following a successful season in 2007 is the Dutch Holmatro team, who finished runners-up last year. Austrian multiple cat racing champion Andreas Hagara will helm the distinctive orange boat, while their mastman Gerd Habermuller is a former Olympic bobsleigh crew - well suited to the acceleration of an Extreme 40!
Another largely Dutch crew looking for a big finish at the series finale in Amsterdam is the Volvo Ocean Race team. Crew Gerd-Jan Poortman, Simeon Tienpont and Arend van Bergeijk have plenty of miles under their belts, each having completed gruelling Volvo Ocean Race or Whitbread Round the World Races, while skipper Herbert Dercksen is a three-times catamaran world champion.
There's more ocean racing talent on board the BT Extreme 40, which is skippered by solo and record-breaking round the world sailor Nick Moloney. The Aussie helm will be joined by a top-quality crew including British Olympian Steve Mitchell, who competed at the Games in the tough Star class.
BT at the iShares Cup Skandia Cowes Week 2007. © DPPI / OC Events www.isharescup.com
- Extreme 40s©
There's a strong Kiwi contingent on board Team Aqua, with former Team New Zealand America's Cup sailor Cameron Appleton taking on the role of skipper and joined by fellow countryman Andrew Estcourt. Brit Alister Richardson, who took part in the very first Extreme 40 races two years ago, will drive Team Aqua and is looking forward to the bigger and better 2008 iShares Cup: 'I raced during the first season when we had five boats out, so 10 boats will certainly make it exciting!'
This season will also see title partner iShares host a team in the iShares Cup for the first time. iShares will be skippered by British former Olympic Tornado sailor Hugh Styles and consist of a core talented crew. The team will be joined by famous local sailors as guest crew, or celebrities taking the role of 'fifth man', at each stop on the circuit. With plenty of followers at each of the five events on the calendar, the iShares team can look forward to vocal support from the spectators!
The 2008 iShares Cup Extreme 40 Sailing Series takes in five European venues, each chosen for their fantastic sailing and viewing opportunities - from the spectacular Swiss lake of Lugano, to the bustling centre of UK sailing at Skandia Cowes Week, before bringing high speed sailing action right into the heart of the city at the event finale in Amsterdam. 2008 iShares Cup official team entries as at 02.04.08:
Alinghi / Ed Baird
BT / Nick Moloney
Holmatro / Andreas Hagara
iShares / Hugh Styles
JPMorgan Asset Management / Shirley Robertson
Team Aqua / Cameron Appleton
TEAMORIGIN / Rob Greenhalgh
Volvo Ocean Race / Herbert Dercksen
2008 iShares Cup Extreme 40 Sailing Series venues:
Switzerland, Lugano: 30 May-1 June
France, venue tbc: 13-15 June
UK at Skandia Cowes Week: 2-4 August
Germany, venue tbc: 29-31 August
Netherlands, Amsterdam: 19-21 September
Follow all the action and find out more about the teams at the new event website http://www.iSharesCup.com