The Extreme 40 catamaran series, the iShares Cup, is rapidly becoming a mini America's Cup event following the announcement that BMW Oracle will enter two boats at the Skandia Cowes Week series. BMW Oracle, the America's Cup challenger of record, will join Alinghi, the AC defender and British AC challenger Team Origin and nine other teams for the third event of the iShares Cup.
BMW Oracle Racing will compete with a two-boat Extreme 40 entry sailed by some of the world's top sailors. Legendary sailor Russell Coutts of New Zealand, will skipper one of the two Extreme 40s - Coutts is considered by many to be one of the greatest sailors of all time, having won an Olympic gold medal, three America's Cups and multiple world championships. He will be joined by multihull expert Franck Cammas in the afterguard, who has skippered the giant 'Groupama' trimarans to multiple ocean race victories and records.
On the second BMW Oracle Racing boat Australian James Spithill will take the helm - the hugely talented match racer has a reputation for taking no prisoners at the starts so he'll be one to watch on the 11-boat start lines in Cowes. Spithill will be joined by Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup-winning tactician John Kostecki from the USA. The remaining four crew will be confirmed closer to the regatta, which takes place over August 2-4.
The take-up of the Extreme 40 catamaran class has been brought about by the next edition of the America's Cup, between defender Alinghi and challenger BMW Oracle, taking place in giant catamarans. The Extreme 40 class is the largest available catamaran that has a regular racing circuit, allowing the AC crews to experience some real close quarter action in boats that have a very different handling characteristic to the normal AC monohulls.
Both Alinghi and BMW Oracle have new large multihulls in design/build for the next America's Cup, while the legal situation still limps through the courts in America. While Alinghi joined the iShares Cup for the opening events, the two BMW Oracle Extreme 40s recently competed at a special 'Just the Best' regatta in Italy (20-22 June) where Spithill and Coutts faced off in the cats, with Spithill's team earning the regatta victory. Both teams have shown that they can get caught out by the rapid handling of catamarans, whatever the size, and have flipped. So in the crowded venue of Cowes Week with strong tides and changing wave conditions expect the 40ft catamarans to live up to their name.
'We are putting more time into racing the Extreme 40s now, as well as match racing,' Coutts said. 'Until the new boat arrives we will keep pushing our learning curve on multihulls as much as we can.'
But with nine other teams on the water in the iShares Cup racing in Cowes the America's Cup crews can't expect to have everything their own way. As Event Director Gilles Chiorri explained,
'Since the beginning of the season the fleet has been improving in power - in Lugano we had nine boats, then in Hyeres we had 11 and there was much more action on the water with all the teams pushing harder.'
'Having such a race between BMW Oracle Racing and Alinghi will be very interesting - Cowes is after all where the America's Cup began - and we know they have some very good crew in Franck Cammas, James Spithill and Russell Coutts. It will be very exciting for us to have such a high profile team joining us in the iShares Cup, but I am sure the other teams will give them a good run for their money.'
Team Origin skipper Rob Greenhalgh, who is currently leading the iShares Cup circuit overall, added:
'The addition of BMW Oracle Racing to the iShares Cup is great news. The circuit has been fantastic so far with some really top teams competing including two America's Cup teams so adding one more is sure to enhance the racing and increase general interest further. They are sure to be a strong team and it will be good to race against them.'
The other teams lining up for the third event of the 2008 iShares Cup at Skandia Cowes Week are:
BT, skippered by offshore record breaker Nick Moloney; Holmatro, helmed by cat specialist Andreas Hagara; iShares, skippered by Olympian Hugh Styles; double British gold medallist Shirley Roberston on JPMorgan Asset Management, who won the first event of the circuit in Lugano.
Plus the innovative Oman Sail, skippered by Pete Cumming as part of a unique project from the Sultanate of Oman; Team Aqua, helmed by Kiwi match racer Cameron Appleton; and Volvo Ocean Race, skippered by Extreme 40 class innovator Herbert Dercksen.