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America's Cup: Alinghi Red Bull Racing announce challenge for 37th America's Cup

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 14 Dec 2021 14:06 PST 14 December 2021
Christian Horner, Chief of Red Bull Racing F1 team beams in for the Alinghi Red Bull Racing challenge for the America's Cup © Hans-Peter Steinacher

Alinghi Red Bull Racing became the first team, outside the Challenger of Record, to formally declare their entry as a Challenger in the 37th America's Cup.

The formal announcement took place at their club Societe Nautique de Geneve, on the shores of Lake Geneva, in front a group of media and invited guests, and online media.

It was a significant moment for the Swiss club, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary, next year.

Effectively it is a new team comprising the two top GC32 teams Alinghi and Red Bull Sailing Team, but with a third partner in the F1 team Red Bull Racing. The principals of Alinghi, Ernesto Bertarelli, Red Bull Sailing Team, Hans-Peter Steinacher, were on stage together at the Societe Nautique de Geneve. They were joined via a video hook-up by Christian Horner, Team Chief of Red Bull Racing, the now world champion F1 team.

The twice America's Cup champions Alinghi return to the America's Cup after an absence of 11 years, following their defeat in a Deed of Gift match off Valencia in February 2010. No mention was made of that event, with team backer, Swiss pharmaceutical multi-billionaire, Ernest Bertarelli instead referencing the team's win with a "perfect challenge in New Zealand, and then winning again in Valencia by two seconds were memorable moments."

"When we left, it was with a feeling that we did a good job. We were the first to win on the first attempt. We were the first one to bring the Cup back to Europe, and frankly I think we did a good job of organizing the regatta with 11 Challengers in the wonderful town of Valencia and the beautiful racing.

"When we stopped in the Cup, we didn't stop competing. We always had in mind that Alinghi would come back one day. Over the years, we continued to race fast boats, which is our DNA. And we raced fast foiling boats with a new generation of sailor - Swiss born."

"So now we are ready. Ready for something different, something very new, something very fresh and very exciting."

The announcement was a carefully scripted affair which released little real detail about the challenge. The session was conducted part in French, part in English.

Two members of the Alingi GC32 team were part of the on-stage group, Arnaud Psarofaghis and Bryan Mettraux, there was no reference to speculation regarding signing of AC75 experienced sailors who don't qualify as Swiss nationals to join the team.

Most of the questions came from the media physically present at the Swiss club, with only a couple taken from the international media.

There was no mention of the purchase of a first generation AC75, but the new team is widely tipped to have purchased Te Aihe from Emirates Team New Zealand. The AC75, reckoned to be a good match for the second generation AC75's which competed in the 2021 America's Cup. Te Aihe was spotted in mid-last week outside the Emirates Team New Zealand base, destination unknown.

It is believed that Alinghi Red Bull Racing has purchased the ETNZ AC75. It is the pick of the four first generation AC75's built. When shot it was being moved back into the ETNZ base facility in the Viaduct Harbour. On the morning of the launch of Te Rehutai, Sail-World was part of a small group of sailing media given a preliminary look at the new AC75. We asked how much gear had been cannabalised from the team's first generation boat to go onto the race boat. "A lot of the electronics," said Chief designer Dan Bernasconi. "A little bit of the hydraulics, and not much else," he added.

When asked if they had any intention of sailing the race boat against Te Aihe, the idea was dismissed. "It would take a while to put it back together," replied Peter Burling.

It would seem that ETNZ will have to bring Te Aihe back to a racing state, probably replacing the original gear, or doing a like for like. That will probably include putting her into Version 2 of the AC75 rule - removal of the bowsprit and other Code Zero gear, and removal of the running backstays and now-extraneous gear.

From there they will have to fit foil arms and wings (which are off the boat in the image below. Next step will be to fully rig the AC75, do a towing test, to check that all foiling systems and controls work. From the Protocol it would seem that the AC75 could not be sailed before June 22. And it is likely that Te Aihe will be shipped to wherever Alinghi Red Bull Racing have their sailing base.

Our guess is that the AC75 will complete commissioning, with the boat being "hot-staged" as much as possible in Auckland to reduce any need for hard to obtain replacement parts. While Alinghi may do some sailing on Lake Geneva, a more likely option is to relocate either to Valencia, Spain and work out of one of the bases from the 2007 America's Cup. The other option is to work up out of Sardinia, or possibly stay in Auckland, for a few months. There is no prohibition on non-Swiss nationals working as part of the sailing crew during training, and it is likely that Alinghi will have to hire some AC75 experienced crew, or get AC75 experienced coaches.

An Auckland company, Lloyd Stevenson Boatbuilders has a Catalyst 45 under construction "for an America's Cup Challenger". Whether that is for Alinghi Red Bull Racing, or another team remains to be seen. The Catalyst 45 is the multihull tender developed for Emirates Team New Zealand and also used by Luna Rossa in the 36th America's Cup.

A key part of their buildup will be learning how to handle the AC75 - given that none of the GC32 team have sailed an AC75 of even a similar concept boat. It will be interesting to know, if it is ever disclosed as to what performance data is passed over with the AC75, and indeed if Alinghi Red Bull Racing purchase a design package from ETNZ or one of the other teams. It has been disclosed that a new team would save several million dollars by purchasing a design package. However in Alinghi's case that will depend on the design team and software tools, that are directly applicable to the AC75. For a new team, time is of the essence, and no-one will be more aware of that than Ernesto Bertarelli.

It is not known if Bertarelli has been able to lure Australian Grant Simmer back to drive the sailing and technical program. Simmer was with Alinghi for the 2003, 2007 and 2010 America's Cups, and was widely credited with getting Oracle Racing back on the rails after its capsize in October 2012, and into a winning position in the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco.

Bertarelli confirmed the team will headquarter its operations near Lausanne, in Écublens, Switzerland, where the hull will be built according to the requirement of the Deed of Gift. As with the team's AC75 it is to be hoped that the AC75 can be trucked out, rather than helicoptered over the Swiss Alps as with their 120ft Alinghi 5 for the 2010 America's Cup.

As a "new" team Alinghi Red Bull Racing are permitted to start sailing earlier than September 17, 2022. They can start sailing their purchased AC75, for a period of 20 days between June 17, 2022 and September 17, 2022.

Hans-Peter Steinacher won two Olympic Gold medals for Austria in the Tornado class in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic regattas, sailing with Ramon Hagara. As leader of Red Bull Sailing team, he has competed against Bertarelli in the GC32 class for several seasons.

Introducing the sailing team Bertarelli noted that they were boys when Alinghi was competing in the 2003 and 2007 America's Cups, "but now they are now grown up men. They were born with foiling, and we feel that we have a team capable to compete at the highest level in the next Cup."

The two teams will, if they wish, be able to continue to compete on the GC32 circuit without infringing any of the AC37 Protocol, which prohibits sailing in boats longer than 12 metres. Joining the SailGP circuit will not be so easy unless they come to an accommodation with the newly announced Swiss SailGP team, which is one of the strictly limited group of ten teams competing on the Season 3 circuit. Several of the crew members from established America's Cup teams compete on the SailGP circuit sailing wingsailed foiling catamarans - a one design modification of the AC50's used in the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda.

Four times America's Cup winner, Brad Butterworth, a long time Bertarelli lieutenant will be a senior member of the team - although along with others involved, no formal roles was were announced.

Butterworth brings his acerbic wit to a sanitised America's Cup scene. He is well used to exploiting any chink in the relationship between Emirates Team NZ and Kiwi politicians and panjandrums. He was on ETNZ's case within days of his appointment as an "ambassador" by Challenger of Record Luna Rossa in the 2021 Cup. Outwardly his role was to smooth relationships between the Challenger and Defender. He does an excellent job of running interference, as an external disruptor. However he was on his best behavior during the Red Bull announcement, but that situation is not expected to last given the current opportunities in New Zealand.

In this regard, he is probably second only to the redoubtable Warren Jones, who performed a similar role for Alan Bond, harrying the laggardly New York Yacht Club, in Australia II's historic 1983 America's Cup win.

The Italian Silvio Arrivabene (with American Magic in the last Cup) will be the head of technical operations. Not confirmed was the appointment of Michel Hodara who is responsible for the team's business affairs. Hodara is another long-time Bertarelli lieutenant. No mention was made of key design team members Marcello Botin (ex American Magic), or Nick Holroyd (ex INEOS Team UK).

While Bertarelli gave a very polite response to a prepared question on his preference of venue. He made it clear that the team was "ready to sail for the Americas Cup wherever the Defender decides to sail." Given that the team have already paid their USD$1million first installment of the Entry Fee, it would appear that unlike other Challengers waiting in the wings Alinghi Red Bull Racing would be happy to sail in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Perhaps not surprising that the Red Bull F1 team competed in Jeddah just over two weeks ago.

Bertarelli described Alinghi Red Bull Racing as a "new team, completely different from what I have seen so far. We are fully integrated, we are one family, and we are going to benefit from each others strength in technology, in strategy and tactics."

"I think last Sunday was a good example of risk taking which will be required to win next time, but at the same time, never give up" - a reference to Red Bull F1 team's dramatic win in the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - which decided the F1 World Championship.

"We are very excited to be partners with a fantastic group," Bertarelli added.

"We're going to take F1 DNA, and use it within the boat," said Christian Horner via a video link. "There is so much synergy between what we do on the track and this kind of [America's Cup] racing. We're going up against Mercedes and INEOS on the water and maybe Ferrari, as well - so the competition spills over from the track, and that's exciting. So many people within Red Bull Racing and Red Bull Advanced Technology who are passionate about this project. We are very excited and proud to be part of this announcement today."

Reference was made to he fact that Adrian Newey, currently Chief Technical Officer within Red Bull Racing, was also a keen sailor - having been part of the Land Rover BAR team in the early stages of the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda.

"We will be applying all the same tools, equipment and approach to simulation that we use in F1 and applying that t this new challenge and this exciting project and opportunity," Horner added.

However like the INEOS Britannia team, before either can go too far in their design program, they will have to test their tests - without the reference point of a sailing platform until September 2022. Making the transition from computer analysis to on the water performance, in the fine degrees required for AC75 design, is still surrounded by some uncertainty. It's an issue that is not shared by the Defender and Challenger from the last America's cup, both of whom have in-house developed technology that is accurately benchmarked with on the water performance data from their respective race boats - and against each other.

"We're starting from scratch, I guess," said Brad Butterworth. "But we have a great group and a great bunch of sailors. The strength in our team is in our people. The hard work is there, but that is the sport and that is what we are up against."

"This Red Bull Alinghi team is something new, I really love it. It is a dream come true."

"I'm there just to support the guys and bring maybe a bit of the Old School to the New World - or maybe they will teach me a thing or two!"

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