America’s Cup World Series - After getting to grips with the AC45 one design catamaran just two months ago in Cascais, Energy Team led by Bruno and Loïck Peyron showed in Plymouth last month that they had made a lot of progress and were starting to pose a real threat to the top teams.
The team can feel more relaxed about the next leg of the AC World Series, which is due to take place in San Diego (USA) from 12th to 20th November. Before that, the French challenger will head for Saint-Pierre Quiberon where they will train for a week from 17th to 21st October with around ten crewmen engaging in match racing battles on 25-foot one-design catamarans. We take a look at the French challenger in the company of Loïck and Bruno Peyron, who give us their feelings about the state of play before the big American event.
The crew of Energy Team has only just completed its second series of battles out on the water against the big teams from the United States (Oracle Racing), New Zealand (Emirates Team New Zealand) and Sweden (Artemis Racing) who have already been training for eight months. Between the event in Cascais, raced in light conditions and the Plymouth leg, which enabled them to test the AC45 in much stronger conditions, the crew of Energy Team showed that they had made good progress in the various aspects of racing. Bruno Peyron: 'The result at the end of the Plymouth event is more or less what we were expecting. After getting some good results mid-week in Plymouth, we let ourselves imagine a little too quickly that we could really get up and battle it out in the Top 5, but the Big Three are still out there in front, which is only to be expected. Emirates Team New Zealand (Dean Barker), the two Oracle boats (James Spithill and Russell Coutts) and Artemis Racing (Terry Hutchinson) keep their lead, but behind them, two teams have stood out during the racing in Cascais and Plymouth: the team led by Chris Draper (Team Korea) in the match racing and Energy Team in the fleet races. Our team has made progress in terms of speed, moved up a few spots and showed what a solid team they are. Our group is bubbling over with energy and work well together as a team. This is something you cannot quantify, but it clearly contributes to moving forward and building on what we have achieved.'
How they stand after the Plymouth event
The goal for Energy Team was not to win in Cascais or Plymouth, but to see how much the team could progress. Bruno Peyron: 'Our overall performance remains rather inconsistent, but we now know what we are capable of. In light to moderate conditions, we are more than half way up the table. In stronger winds, we’re between third and sixth, with some good and some disappointing performances. The fact that we haven’t had as much time to prepare can be seen more in stronger winds than in lighter conditions.'
As for our performance, the crew quickly got to grips with the boat and is beginning to fully understand the way the wing sail works. In Plymouth we could see that the team were working much better together after deciding to use French on board and their manoeuvres are much smoother. Loïck Peyron: 'The manoeuvres are starting to come together, we’ve improved our speed, and the starts are better. The sails are better too, particularly the new number 2 jib, which we were missing in Cascais. On board, we decided once and for all that it was better to speak French, in particular when Yann Guichard and I need to communicate. That helps us prepare the manoeuvres more easily and enables us to better appreciate what is going on out on the water. We now have to become a real couple! The helmsman and tactician really need to understand each other. If you look at Russell Coutts-Murray Jones, they’ve been sailing together now for thirty years, whereas we’ve only been together for a few weeks.'
The races in Plymouth showed us that overall there was a general improvement, but that there are still some minor details to sort out. Loïck Peyron: 'That’s the case for the sails. We’re only about a quarter of the way through our development programme, which means we still have our work cut out. We’re going to have to learn how to deal with the boat in strong winds. We need to hike out more, communicate more amongst ourselves, look further ahead, as on such fast boats, that is vital.'
Training session in Quiberon
Energy Team is going to continue to move its crew around and test other crewmen. During a week’s training session at the French Sailing School in Saint-Pierre Quiberon, two 25-foot one-design catamarans and 8 to 10 sailors will be training during match races. Loïck Peyron: 'We’ll be racing in the same course configurations as in the AC45 races, with reaching starts, boundary limits, and everything that is so specific to the AC World Series. We’ll be working on our starts, match racing, crosses, making the most of the rules, which are still a bit new to us, the entrance, circling, how to block boats. We’ll be helped by Thierry Poiret and Yann Guichard, who will be organising the training week during which Marc Bouet is expected to join us to run through the theoretical aspects. As for the new crewmen, we’ll be trying out some who specialize in match racing on monohulls, but who also know about multihull racing, so they can share their experiences.'
Bruno Peyron: 'The idea we have is to build up a large squad with in the end around fifteen sailors, in other words three times as many as today. We’re going to take advantage of this week to try out some new people, who come from various backgrounds. Their precise career path isn’t that important as champions adapt very quickly to all sorts of boats. We know too that apart from the helmsman, we need some crewmen, who are rather more athletic. So today there is room in Energy Team for youngsters showing a lot of potential. The America’s Cup for them isn’t in ten years from now, but right at this moment.'
The America’s Cup is advancing as the French challenger expected. The pictures from Cascais and Plymouth enable us to understand the revolution that is underway. Bruno Peyron: 'Reality has turned out to be even better than the virtual imagery promised at the start. The television coverage is exceptional. That is all very reassuring. The doubts we had last winter are behind us and I feel increasingly confident. We still have a lot of work that needs to be done, but this is the first time we find ourselves facing an organiser, who is ready to listen, doesn’t impose his choices without discussing things first and is attentive to everyone’s interests. I think we were right to give it a go. We couldn’t miss out on this opportunity, and while there are nine boats taking part today, I can see two or three more teams joining us...'
Heading for The Cup
Since signing their partnership with Corum, Energy Team has acquired the guarantee that they can go all the way to the end of 2012 in the AC45 circuit. The challenge now is knowing how the French challenger can get their campaign together and launch the construction of the big AC72 multihull, as they prepare to take part in the 34th America’s Cup (San Francisco 2013). Bruno Peyron: 'From a technical perspective, things are becoming clearer. For the big boat, we’ll be going with the Design Pack that the ACEA has offered us, which was drawn up by VPLP, and can then count on our design team to improve on that. But we also need to know when we can get the construction of the boat started. Is it wise to begin that process as soon as possible, to start training as early as we can, or would it be wiser to wait a while to take advantage of any research, knowing that in any case the number of days when you can train is limited in any case.'
As for the business side of things, Energy Team will be making the most of the next three or four months to finalize discussions with some potential major partners. Bruno Peyron: 'We’re in discussions with five big groups, each of which have the ability to become our headline partner. We should stress that the contribution of the headline partner is around the same as for the French team taking part in the Volvo Ocean Race. So we can see that this type of investment is possible in France. But we could also consider a joint partnership between these groups with co-branding, if the brands fit in with the concept of our challenge developed around the theme of energy. If you are asking if we have the guarantee today that we’ll manage to do that, the answer has to be no. But if the question is whether we are likely to achieve that, the answer would more likely be yes.' Energy Team website