Thursday, May 10, 2007

United Internet Team Germany: Skipper Jesper Bank resigns, second ACC boat already under construction

Earlier today, United Internet Team Germany, the first ever America's Cup challenger from Germany, held a press conference at their base where they drew a balance of their performance in the 32nd edition of the event as well as talked about the future of Germany's participation in the world's oldest sailing competition.

Even for the least experienced observer, the German team's performance here in Valencia in the last 2 years has been disappointing, to say the least. Just a quick glance at the Louis Vuitton Cup leaderboard suffices in order to assess the German syndicate's results. United Internet Team Germany finished the round robins tenth out of 11 challengers with just 5 points - 1 from the Louis Vuitton Acts bonus and 4 from the team's two wins over China Team. As Michael Scheeren, head of the syndicate, stated, "we have not met our target which was to finish on rank eight of the overall ranking table. You have to be honest with that and we are disappointed about this fact".

The immediate and most important consequence of this debacle is the resignation of the team's skipper, Jesper Bank. Although the Danish sailor's contract with the German team doesn't end before 2008, he took the decision to step down from any position in the team as soon as possible. After finalizing some last-minute details he will leave the team next Monday.

Obviously, one of the principal tasks of any future German campaign will be to find a replacement for Bank. Michael Scheeren left all options open as far as his nationality is concerned since the only German national able to skipper an America's Cup team is Alinghi's Jochen Schuemann and it is of course far from clear, at least at this stage, what his future plans are.

According to Michael Scheeren, there is the willingness to continue in the 33rd America's Cup with another German syndicate. Nevertheless, it is still too early to give any details, especially if we still don't know who will win this edition, what format it will have in the future, where it will be held and at what frequency. The current main sponsor of the team, United Internet, is keen on sponsoring a new campaign, but its possible involvement is still unknown. When asked about the German intentions in the eventual move of the America's Cup to New Zealand, Scheeren pointed to Shosholoza's head, Captain Sarno, who publicly declared the South African team would not take part in the 33rd America's Cup should Emirates Team NZ win this edition in Valencia. Although he didn't explicitly rule out a German participation in that case, he admitted it would be much more difficult to secure German sponsoring.

By far the most important - and quite surprising - news out of the conference is that the team's second Version 5 America's Cup yacht is already under construction!! The boat was commissioned last week, according to Scheeren, and is being built at Knierim-Yachtbau in Kiel, the same boatyard that built their current yacht, GER-89. According to Scheeren, the new yacht's design is based on GER-89 with a few modifications that resulted from the team's racing in Valencia. The decision to build the second yacht was taken independently of whether United Internet continued its sponsorship involvement or the arrival of any new major sponsor. The budget and resources required for boat construction have been previously allocated.

It is speculated that in the 33rd edition of the America’s Cup teams will only be allowed to build just one brand new yacht. If that is case, the Germans are trying to take full advantage of this edition’s rules and even if their involvement ended yesterday, they will still be able to have two Version 5 yachts, built from scratch, that will allow them to start training as soon as possible.

Finally, concerning the team's short term calendar, United Internet Team Germany will take part in the German Sailing Grand Prix in Kiel in early August. As of today, only Shosholoza is the other confirmed team to sail in this ACC exhibition regatta, with Victory Challenge and Areva Challenge considering their possible entry.