Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Alinghi's Grant Simmer talks to Valencia Sailing

On Tuesday morning we visited the Alinghi base and talked to Grant Simmer, managing director of the 32nd America's Cup Defender. This time around we didn't inquire in depth on the Swiss team's ongoing preparation for the America's Cup match in a month from now but were curious to learn Simmer's view on the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinalists and his take on the two potential challengers.

Valencia Sailing: What is your view on the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals? Are you surprised by the results? Did you expect to see BMW Oracle go down 5-1?
Grant Simmer: No, I didn't expect it and I was really surprised. It's just sad that such a strong team with so much talent gets eliminated from the event but this is exactly the event's nature. When Luna Rossa and BMW Oracle went in there, one of them was going to be eliminated. Both were extremely strong teams but I was surprised it happened so quickly and so definitively for Luna Rossa. On the other hand, Luna Rossa sailed extremely well, their sailing team did an excellent job. They were smart, crew work was impeccable and as Chris Dickson said they took BMW Oracle by surprise, they underestimated their opponent.

Valencia Sailing: So, was it an issue of Luna Rossa doing an excellent work rather than BMW Oracle failing?
Grant Simmer: Clearly Luna Rossa did an extremely good work but I think BMW Oracle were a little surprised by that and couldn't or didn't or it was too late to react. It wasn't what they had anticipated and it appears they were shocked by it and couldn't react fast enough. Frankly, I look at that and think, "God, I hope it doesn't happen to us". You know we are a strong team, just like BMW Oracle, and when you see how easy it was for it to happen, it's scary. It's a valuable lesson for us. When things go wrong and not as expected you should be strong to react in the little time you have remaining.

Valencia Sailing: Could the fact Chris Dickson was the team's CEO, skipper and helmsman negatively affect the team?
Grant Simmer: It's not the model we have in our team. I obviously don't sail on the boat and Brad and I work together. Especially in this period, just a month before the America's Cup I try to protect Brad from all the other issues of the team.

Valencia Sailing: What about the other semifinal? Are you surprised to see Desafío Español winning two races against Emirates Team NZ?
Grant Simmer: I think that at least they had the potential to take a couple of races. Now if you ask me whether they could win the semifinal, I think their chances are pretty low, especially considering they have to win three consecutive matches while the New Zealanders need only one. It's fabulous though for a young team, basically a new one, to get to a level comparable to that of a very strong team. Emirates Team NZ haven't been sailing badly, they have been sailing very well and we all know there is an incredible depth and experience in them. As a result, all the credit goes to Desafío Español for being able to get to that level in the time they had available. As I said, I find it extremely difficult for them to win three matches in a row, but imagine if the next race is a fluky one and then they only have two in a row.

I think Desafío Español have done well enough to secure the funding they will need for the next campaign and Agustín Zulueta has also stated they were almost sure to go again. I think they will grow into a good, mature team and Spain has been the success story of this event.

Valencia Sailing: Out of the four semifinalists who in your view has made the greatest improvement.
Grant Simmer: Luna Rossa is certainly peaking at the moment.

Valencia Sailing: Does this come as a surprise to you?
Grant Simmer: Yes, because they were considered the underdogs going into the semifinals against BMW Oracle. Even internally I think they saw themselves as the underdogs. The turning point might have been in the second race when they lost due to the big separation in the last leg, after leading comfortably throughout. They probably realized it wasn't lost for them, on the contrary. They changed the boat from the unveiling, they have a different appendage package although compared to BMW Oracle, they never looked either particularly faster or slower. One thing there was a great improvement though, was the start. James Spithill was getting stronger at every start.

Valencia Sailing: I suppose both Ed Baird and Peter Holmberg are analyzing Spithill's starts against BMW Oracle.
Grant Simmer: Of course, we are analyzing the potential challengers and it's part of our job to do exactly that. Both Ed and Peter are good starters, we have been doing a great number of prestarts and their level now is very high.

Valencia Sailing: If it comes down to Luna Rossa and Emirates Team NZ who could be, in your view and from what you have seen so far, the potential challenger?
Grant Simmer: It's really tough to call that but whoever wins it's also going to be a tough opponent for us. We are really going to battle hard when we meet them. The level of the challengers has increased substantially. In the 1970's and early 80's you always had a couple of strong defenders who will be racing off themselves while the challengers where weak competition. So when they ultimately made it to the America's Cup the defender would slaughter them, the Americans would kill them. It has changed now, with only one defender and the challengers battling it out. In 2000, Team New Zealand did a fantastic job in preparing themselves to take on Luna Rossa, being really stronger than all the challengers. In 2003, Alinghi came through the Louis Vuitton Cup but I don't think we were particularly faster than Team New Zealand, we were more race-ready. You only reach that stage through more practice.

One thing Luna Rossa is certainly benefiting from right now, is the huge amount of pride, having won the semifinal. That is something that motivates all teams. Every time you win a race you get a boost. For us, winning Louis Vuitton Act 13 resulted in a huge positive feeling. We went against all challengers and we beat them. Today, Desafío Español will be really motivated by the fact they won the last race. That alone might be an excellent reason to win the next one. When we were a challenger in Auckland and won a lot of races in the Louis Vuitton Cup, that kept us motivated. Winning is contagious, you love it. The more you win the stronger you feel. As a result, we didn't feel scared when we went to the America's Cup against the kiwis, we felt good and were ready for them.

Valencia Sailing: Based on this statement, I suppose you think there is no sandbagging in the America's Cup.
Grant Simmer: I don't think so. There might have been some fiddling around, probably in Act 13. Don't forget BMW Oracle and Emirates Team NZ didn't use their newest boats. On the other hand, if you ask BMW Oracle now whether in hindsight it was the right decision they might question it.

Valencia Sailing: I was also referring to your team, particularly in Act 13. As you said yourself Ed Baird is an excellent starter, and we surely all agree, but his starts in the last fleet race were often substandard or even bad.
Grant Simmer: There was no intention whatsoever in those bad starts. Don't forget either that fleet racing starts are completely different form match racing ones. Obviously we weren't showing everything we had but nor did Emirates Team NZ or BMW Oracle.

Valencia Sailing: If you are given the opportunity, would you train with BMW Oracle before the America's Cup?
Grant Simmer: I haven't had any discussion with them on that issue but we would definitely consider it if we were offered. Absolutely.

Valencia Sailing: Have you made any decision on the boat and helmsman for the America's Cup match?
Grant Simmer: No, it's too early for that. The internal competition is very good for us and we are constantly developing our two boats.

Valencia Sailing: Does this development also include a canting keel?
Grant Simmer: [Laughs] No!

Valencia Sailing: My final question concerns your boat SUI-75 that Team Origin acquired yesterday. Can you give us more details on this issue?
Grant Simmer: [Laughs] I obviously can't tell you the price! On the other hand I can tell that we didn't negotiate long at all. They are really good people to deal with. I know both Mike Sunders and Keith Mills and when they contacted us asking whether the boat was on sale, we said "sure". We spent a little bit of time negotiating and the boat will be delivered after the America's Cup. That's a good thing because it will not distract us with getting it ready now. We'll do that in July. We also had interest from an additional two teams, one of them currently in Valencia in this America's Cup, the other being a potential one for the next Cup. I think the British are very serious and are putting together a strong team. Again, this is great for the event.

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