Thursday, October 18, 2007

Paul Cayard talks about Desafío Español and the America's Cup

Less than a week after joining Desafío Español as its new Sports Director, Paul Cayard talked to the Spanish media, together with the team's general manager, Agustín Zulueta. The American legendary sailor talked about most aspects of his team but the most controversial ones (validity of the Challenger of Record, current litigation in New York, possible postponement of the America's Cup) were developed to a much lesser extent.

Being a conference for the Spanish media the interest was mainly focused on what Cayard could bring to the team, his goals and the level of Spanish participation in the sailing crew. In our opinion there are three or four main points from the conference. First, Cayard will helm the new boat during the development phase but not necessarily during actual racing. Second, both him and Desafío Español don't want to have the event postponed till 2010 and hope a solution to the litigation can be found before Monday. Third, Cayard thinks Alinghi doesn't have the 33rd America's Cup in the pocket and BMW Oracle will be very difficult to beat, given their enormous financial, technical and human resources.

After the end of the America’s Cup in July, rumors and speculations started concerning the eventual moves of Cayard. Desafío Español was keen to retain the American sailor and as a result, Zulueta continued his negotiations with Cayard. On August 5th the two men met in Palma during the Copa del Rey where Zulueta told him that the team's intention was to build a sailing crew consisting mainly of Spaniards. In addition, he told him that the moment they had their sponsorship secured, their technical team ready and the basic managerial structure in place they would make him a firm offer. Despite the usual summer sluggishness, they promised it wouldn't be later than September 15th. After that date, it was a continuous back and forth negotiation between Valencia and San Francisco that ended with the contract signature last week.

Cayard's relation with the Spanish team
According to Zulueta, the 6 weeks Cayard spent with Desafío Español in February and March 2007 were more than a simple preparation for the Louis Vuitton Cup, it was a first step to get to know each other. Cayard stated it was a "pleasure" to be back with Desafío Español. The months of February and March were positive, he learned how the team worked and as a result he had a good relation right now.

According to Cayard, this edition of the America's Cup will be different from the previous one, due to the introduction of a new class of boats and the fact it will take place in less than 2 years. As a result, experience is one of the key factors, since one has to put in place a team, design and build the new boat, get a technical team and of course sponsors and funds as soon as possible. Cayard thinks that all these elements are right here in Desafío Español and the team can start fighting for the 33rd America's Cup as of today.

Cayard is aware this is a Spanish team and one of his goals will be to learn Spanish, not just in order to be able to talk to the rest of the team but also get to understand their culture. The winning team, according to Cayard, will need to be "united" and he will have to insert himself in order to achieve the desired goal. The team will obviously also be international, because you have to hire experienced people wherever they come from.

Paul Cayard gives his first press conference as Sports Director of Desafío Español. Valencia, 18 October 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

The issue whether Cayard will also helm the boat was obviously of primordial interest and a number of questions focused on that. According to Zulueta, Desafío Español had considered that in the 32nd America's Cup it wouldn't have been "suitable" that Cayard helmed the yacht. This time though, the situation is exactly the opposite and the team considers imperative for Cayard to helm the new boat.

Since Cayard just arrived in the team, Laureano Wizner is the current helmsman and will serve as backup. Still, according to Zulueta, Desafío Español is considering the option of hiring (full or part time) a big-name international match-racing specialist, but this will have to be at a later stage (not earlier than February) and after consideration with Cayard, who stated that "probably" there are better helmsmen than him available.

Cayard is considering training in match racing because he admitted his skills are not what they used to be in the past and they could probably hire someone to do that against him. Still, he thinks races in this America's Cup (if all goes according to the current protocol) will be different than in the previous one. There won't be races decided by a second.

According to Cayard, "for better or for worse, races will be won by more than a minute, unlike the 1 second last July", similar to what took place in 1992. This Cup will be much more technical and as a result, the helmsman's work will be much more important during the development phase rather than the actual competition. The helmsman will have to work closely with the technical team, "feel" the boat, understand all the technical details, explain how the boat works and try to find solutions much faster. Boat development will be much more important this time and pure match racing will fall to second stage.

Nevertheless, pure match racing will not be ignored and the helmsman that develops the boat will not necessarily be the one that races. According to Cayard, the best way to practice and improve your match racing skills is on 10-meter boats in the international circuit. Then you apply these skills to the large America's Cup yachts, with variations, due to the particularities of the yachts. He went on to mention the younger French helmsmen such as Matthieu Richard and Sébastien Col that might be excellent match racers but might lack the skills himself or Russell Coutts have.

Whatever the case, the decision will be taken by Cayard, after consulting with Zulueta and John Cutler.

Navigator & Tactician
At one stage the question of the position of navigator and tactician was brought. Currently Desafío Español has Santi Lopez-Vazquez, Bruno Zirili and Tony Rae. Still, Zulueta said the team was always looking for other sailors. That will depend on the time schedule of the Cup. If it takes place in 2010, Desafío Español will have to rethink its policy, given its fixed budget.

Zulueta mentioned Terry Hutchinson, former tactician of Emirates Team New Zealand, with whom Desafío Español held talks, but again any decision will be taken by Cayard.

Litigation between GGYC and SNG
It was inevitable that at some point Cayard would be asked to give his opinion on the litigation between the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) and the Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and in particular what he thought would be the outcome of the court case in New York. His answer was that like anybody else, he could only speculate and it was difficult to foresee the outcome. In his opinion, it "also depends on Ernesto Bertarelli, not just Larry Ellison", but he knows they are trying to broker a last-minute deal before next Monday, although "it will not be easy". Both men have their agenda and are "very powerful", a pattern that has been repeated in previous America's Cup editions. According to Cayard, it is "good and bad that powerful men can play with the event". Zulueta added that the problem was the "ego" of Bertarelli and Ellison.

At that point we were finally able to ask one of our questions, concerning an editorial Cayard had written in Seahorse Magazine where he was very critical of Alinghi and the protocol. It seemed a contradiction to us that some months later he signed up with the Challenger of Record that signed that same protocol. Cayard admitted there were "problems" with the protocol and that was exactly the reason there were these negotiations between BMW Oracle and Alinghi. He went on to state that even Alinghi might now have second thoughts about the document they presented 2 days after their victory.

He distanced himself by saying he was a professional and that at this precise moment he had one task with Desafío Español. Use his experience in order to make the team better. Unlike previous editions of the event, this time he was not involved in "politics" but purely sports issues. He hopes the two parties can find a deal but this is out of his scope of duties.

In the event the America's Cup is postponed by 1 year, Cayard will remain with Desafío Español since his contract already includes that possibility.

New class of America's Cup yachts
According to Cayard, it is "physically possible" to have the new boats designed and built in the short time till 2009. You can start designing next Monday and start building by November 1st, although the end result will be miserable. Starting from that extreme the teams will try to manage their tight schedule accordingly. Nevertheless, he stressed that teams will "rush" to design and things won't be done as calmly as in previous editions. This can turn into an advantage for the teams that have their structure ready (administration, funding, base, management, technical team).

According to Zulueta, the designers meeting that took place last Wednesday was fruitful and the situation "evolved much more", without getting into details or explaining what he meant.

His goals for Desafío Español
Given the very good results achieved by Desafío Español in the previous America's Cup, the question about his goals for this edition is hard to answer. Still, his challenge is to improve last edition's result and that's why he is now in Valencia. Zulueta added that his goal is for Desafío Español to reach the finals of the Challenger Selection Series.

TP52 team
Cayard was also asked whether there would be a TP52 Desafío Español team. According to him, the idea of racing outside of the America's Cup is very good as it helps to build the team. Nevertheless, if the Cup takes place in 2009 and 2008 is busy with the pre-regattas, it will be very difficult to satisfy the calendar. If it takes place, it will certainly be for a part of the events and not the whole Medcup circuit.

You can listen to the whole 34 minutes of the press conference, thanks to the small media player. It works like any other player, using the three control buttons (play, pause and stop). You can also move around the sound file by clicking on the grey bar. Finally, you can adjust the volume through the small triangle on the right.

Unfortunately, for our non-spanish readers, the conference took place in a mixture of Spanish and Italian, given Cayard's fluency in the latter.

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