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America's Cup: K-Challenge morphs into Orient Express Team for 2024 Challenge

by Orient Express Team media 2 Feb 14:16 PST 3 February 2023
The French K-Challenge is now the Orient Express © Geoff McKay

The Accor hotel group has committed to K-Challenge for the 37th America’s Cup naming its Orient Express brand as title partner of the official French challenger, which will be known as Orient Express Team.

This commitment to sports oldest trophy, one of the most demanding in competitive sailing, alongside K-Challenge, continues Accor’s expansion into the maritime world following the construction of two Orient Express Silenseas sailing ships by Chantiers de l’Atlantique.

The team, led by Stéphan Kandler and Bruno Dubois, and including talented French specialists such as naval architect Benjamin Muyl, skipper Quentin Delapierre, head of performance Franck Cammas, and technical director Antoine Carraz, will face four other challengers at the Challenger Selection Series in September 2024.

The goal is to carry the colours of Orient Express as far as possible into the competition. And why not all the way to the America’s Cup Match against Defender Emirates Team New Zealand? For the first time in France’s history in the America’s Cup, the French challenge will benefit from a latest generation technology package provided by the Defender. This will allow Orient Express Team to gain time and start on equal terms with its opponents.

The origins of the Orient Express Team

While the America’s Cup was born of a challenge between English and American yacht clubs in 1851, the Orient Express was born of the pioneering spirit of Georges Nagelmackers and completed its inaugural round trip between Paris and Constantinople in 1883. These are almost twin challenges born of passion, commitment, and technology – a timeless and winning combination that Accor Group, its Orient Express brand, and K-Challenge are adopting.

Sébastien Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor: “In line with our global commitments toward eco-responsibility, Accor is furthering its ambitions to become a key partner in promoting excellence and driving innovation, while supporting the French sailing teams. All of us at Accor are motivated by passion, adventure, and team spirit, which is why sailing resonates so strongly with us. At 172 years old, the America’s Cup is an icon of the sailing world. Legendary in terms of its history and its unrelenting pursuit of excellence, it is the natural choice for the first ever Orient Express-sponsored competitive boat!”

Stéphan Kandler, Founder and CEO of K-Challenge: "We are very happy and proud to carry the colours of such an iconic French brand as Orient Express, part of the Accor Group, which has a worldwide reputation and exports French excellence. Accor's support through two of its brands is a global and ambitious commitment that will allow our sport-tech platform K-Challenge, co-managed with Bruno, to engage in multiple sporting and technology projects. These projects will highlight French know-how, talent, innovation, and contribute to a transition to ecological transportation."

Pierre Roinson, President of the SNST: "The Orient Express Team, which will represent us at the America's Cup – a contest of excellence – can count on the unfailing support of the more than 500 members of the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez. We are very happy to be a cornerstone of the 2024 campaign.”

Stéphan Kandler founded K-Challenge in 2001 for a previous America’s Cup campaign. He was joined in 2021 by Bruno Dubois, and since then the partners have been dedicated to building a strong and talented French team.

The wider team includes:

  • Benjamin Muyl, Principal Designer
  • Antoine Carraz, Technical Director
  • Franck Cammas, Head of Performance and Design/Sailor Coordinator
  • A Sailing Team managed by Bruno Dubois, led by skipper Quentin Delapierre and coached by Thierry Douillard.

Bruno Dubois: "In France, there is a pool of technical, technological, and sailing talent that our competitors have identified over the years and used for their campaigns. Stéphan and I want to bring together as many of these skills as possible to form a strong French team.Thanks to the support of ACCOR Group and the commitment of Orient Express, we have assembled a college of experts to steer the group: Benjamin Muyl in Design, Antoine Carraz in Technical, Franck Cammas in Performance, and a sailing team which will be led by Quentin Delapierre.”

Partnership with Emirates Team New Zealand

K-Challenge, now Orient Express Team, has been working for months to ensure that France, a nation recognised as an expert in the field of competitive sailing, will not only compete in this edition of the America’s Cup, but perform. To this end, the French team has signed a technology agreement with the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand. This fantastic opportunity will nullify the time lost in being a late entry and put the French on an equal footing with their talented competitors.

Stéphan Kandler: "Bruno and my starting point was to ensure that the French team was competitive. Beyond the budget that we had to put together, we very quickly entered discussions with the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, with whom we have had a very good relationship since the first K-Challenge campaign in 2003. The resulting technological partnership includes a latest generation design package to work from and we will build our own AC75 Made in France. This partnership allows us to compete on equal terms with the other challengers. This is a great precedent in the history of a French challenge."

For the build of the AC75, Orient Express Team has chosen to work with several well-established shipyards at the heart of the French maritime industry. They are renowned for their know-how gleaned from the many industrial projects they have worked on and from the world of competitive sailing.

Bruno Dubois: "We are fortunate in France to benefit from an extraordinary amount of expertise that we will exploit to the full. We will work with Multiplast, based in Vannes in the Morbihan region, CDK, based in Lorient and Port-La-Forêt, as well as numerous subcontractors.Some of these shipyards also work with Chantiers de l’Atlantique on the Orient Express Silenseas project. Working with several entities allows us to save time. Construction of our AC75 will start in April and will be completed in spring 2024.”

Stéphan Kandler: "Building the AC75 Orient Express will require many skills and hours of work. Our partnership with ACCOR Group will benefit the French economy and create jobs for several months. It is important both from an economic point of view and in terms of the enhancement of the country and the entire sector. Like ACCOR Group's investments in technologies such as hydrogen, we will be able to develop numerous technological innovations towards the decarbonisation of transport.”

Timeline to 2024

The AC75 Orient Express is scheduled to launch in spring 2024. In the meantime, the sailing team will train on an AC40, a smaller but equally powerful monohull that will also be used as the platform for the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup.

Knowledge transfer, one of the pillars of the French challenger’s DNA, will not be overshadowed by the team’s involvement and performance in the America’s Cup. On the contrary, discovering and developing sailors and favouring the integration and training of women and young people in elite competitive sailing will remain at the heart of Orient Express Team and K-Challenge’s mission.

Stéphan Kandler: "We are very happy to see that for the first time in its history, the America's Cup is hosting an event that is 100% dedicated to female athletes. The fact that the Women’s America’s Cup is scheduled around the America's Cup Match between the ultimate Challenger and the Defender, will give it a great deal of visibility. We are delighted. Alongside Team France, the French Sailing Federation, the Fondation du Sport and private partners such as NextWorld Philanthropies, and others soon to be announced, we are going to help the younger generation, girls, and boys, to train and perform across all sectors. The Team France association, which is carrying out these projects alongside K-Challenge, plans to communicate in the coming days about the women's team and the youth selections. To be continued."

Orient Express Team is going to be busy over the next 22 months. Ashore, the team base in Barcelona will be set up and operational from summer 2023. Afloat, the Sailing Team will alternate between training onboard the AC40 in Barcelona and elite international racing on the SailGP circuit against some of the best teams in the world. ACCOR Group through its ALL.Com brand will join the French SailGP team for the end of the third season and all of season four.

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