Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Desafío Español focuses on TP52 and GP42 campaigns; drops CNEV for Club Maritimo del Abra

Wednesday morning finally saw some America's Cup activity in Valencia, not related to the infamous legal case in New York, even if one could argue about its relation to the world's oldest sports event.

Desafío Español, the now-invalidated Challenge of Record of the 33rd America's Cup, summoned the press in its base in order to present the team's TP52 and GP42 campaigns for the summer as well as give the current state of affairs in the challenger. Present where Agustín Zulueta, general manager, John Cutler, technical director and in charge of the TP52 campaign, and Laureano Wizner, helsman and skipper of the GP42 campaign.

According to Zulueta, the team's current strategy revolves around three main points:
1. Desafío Español is primarily an America's Cup challenger and as such it had to adapt its program to the current difficult situation. The main objective is to save money. One of the most drastic decisions was to completely abandon the design of an AC90 yacht.

2. The team has now three sponsors; Iberdrola, the Valencia Region and Quebramar. In order for them to have a return on their investment and given the absence of any America's Cup activity in 2008, the obvious strategy was to participate in the TP52 and GP42 circuits. Iberdrola will use them as a roadshow in order to promote its services around Spain.

3. The TP52 and GP42 campaigns are merely training tools. They will also serve to keep the sailing crew together and eventually bring back sailors that had joined other America's Cup challengers.

From left, Laureano Wizner, helsman and skipper of the GP42 campaign, Agustín Zulueta, general manager, and John Cutler, technical director and in charge of the TP52 campaign. Valencia, 2 April 2008. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Still the most important announcement was that finally, Desafío Español had chosen to represent a new yacht club, bringing the relation with the CNEV to an end. More precisely, from now on the Spanish team will represent the Real Club Maritimo del Abra, located in Bilbao, in northern Spain.

One obvious question was why didn't Desafío Español choose to represent Valencia's yacht club, given the physical proximity and of course the fact both Alinghi and BMW Oracle have stated that the 34th America's Cup will also take place in Valencia, regardless of the outcome of the 33rd edition. Zulueta's answer was odd and even if it sounded credible it caused lots of smiles from the journalists in the conference room.

Desafío Español's general manager declared that the decision was very simple and purely "alphabetical"!!! He had received a letter, dated 11 December 2007, from the association of Spanish yacht clubs where they stated that given the CNEV fiasco, each and every yacht club in the country was offering itself to let Desafío Español race its colors.

What was Zulueta's solution to the problem? In order to avoid the acrimonious Spanish regional disputes by choosing Valencia over Barcelona or vice versa, he took the list of all clubs ranked alphabetically and chose the first one, "Abra", or more precisely "Real Club Maritimo del Abra". It's credible but is it a coincidence the yacht club is located a few kilometers down the road from Iberdrola's headquarters?

Whatever the reasons, at least they learned their lesson and chose a serious, well-established club, more than a century old, having organized and organizing dozens of truly annual regattas. Yet, journalists jokingly asked whether the club had telephone and fax numbers or a functioning website...

It was obvious that without any America's Cup activity in 2008, Desafío Español couldn't be absent from the AUDI Medcup circuit, probably the highest-level and most competitive professional sailing circuit available right now. For that reason, the Spanish team embarked on the construction of a TP52 boat and given the tight schedule - the decision was taken before Christmas - it was decided to build a "photocopy" of Matador, the Argentinian Vrolijk-designed yacht, using the same mold. In fact, both yachts were built by King Marine and in order to further speed up construction it was decided to use the ample space available inside the boatshed.

According to Zulueta, the TP52 yacht will be ready in the next few weeks and if all goes according to schedule, she should be launched around April 22nd. A short christening ceremony should take place between the 25th and 28th of April. Training should start on May 1st off Valencia's coast of course, together with a handful of other TP52 teams, till the 10th.

The Desafío Español TP52 boat under construction inside the team's base. Valencia, 2 April 2008. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Desafío Español will have a close relationship with Terry Hutchinson's team, Quantum Racing. According to Zulueta, the American boat will arrive at their base and will share most of the training sessions. In addition, Hutschinson will helm the green TP52 during the Copa del Rey. Even if cooperation with the former Emirates Team NZ tactician will be very limited this year, Zulueta didn't rule out that he might join the team once the America's Cup picture is clearer.

Desafío Español will participate in 8 events this year, the 6 that consist the AUDI Medcup, the Copa del Rey as well as the World TP52 Championships. The crew of the TP52 yacht will compose the core of the future America's Cup crew and its main helmsman will be Paul Cayard, except for three events; the Copa del Rey, as mentioned earlier, and Puerto Portals and Marseille where Laureano Wizner will substitute him. John Cutler, Desafío Español's technical director, is in charge of the TP52 project.

Finally, neither Zulueta nor Cutler wanted to set a specific goal for the team. Both insisted on the fact they are an America's Cup team that uses the TP52 circuit as a training tool. According to Cutler, their aim is to "sail well". Sometimes you can win even if you don't sail well while you can also lose even if you sail well. Still, any position in the top 5 of the Medcup circuit will be a good achievement for the Spanish.

The Desafío Español TP52 boat under construction inside the team's base. Valencia, 2 April 2008. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Although it's the first time Desafío Español officially participates in the up-and-coming GP42 racing circuit, its sailors are far from novices. On the contrary, last year's international circuit winner was Quebramar-Chrysler, the Portuguese boat entirely crewed by members of the Spanish America's Cup challenger. Not only did the Spanish win the inaugural championship, they did so with great ease and substantial difference from the rest of teams.

As the saying goes, you don't change a winning team and that's exactly what the green team is doing. The crew will be exactly the same as last year, with Laureano Wizner at the helm and Santi López-Vázquez calling tactics. The boat will also be the same, albeit after having undergone some modifications, mainly a redistribution of weight, a new keel and new appendices. Given the limited number of sails the can be used in the Quebramar GP42 Cup this year, Desafío Español will use its America's Cup experienced sailmakers to optimize their design and use.

The Desafío Español GP42 boat undergoing modification inside the team's base. Valencia, 2 April 2008. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Wizner stated that the team's goal is to repeat last year's winning performance and be crowned champions of the 2008 Quebramar GP42 Cup. Nevertheless, he insisted this time around it will not be easy at all. He foresees a very difficult circuit with close races, especially with the incorporation of new boats and other America's Cup sailing teams. According to him, "all teams are dangerous". Still, Wizner, like Zulueta earlier, insisted that Desafío Español is not a GP42 team and the philosophy of the campaign is to keep the crew together and train as much as possible.

Similar to their TP52 counterparts, Desafío Español's GP42 team will have a very busy summer. They will take part in all 6 events of the Quebramar GP42 Cup in addition to 3 other Spanish events where the GP42 class races on its own. According to Wizner, the first two events of the Quebramar GP42 Cup, in Italy and France, will mainly be used by the teams in order to assess and compare each other. The turning point will be in July with the Rolex Trofeo Reina in Valencia.

The modified deck of Desafío Español's GP42 yacht inside the team's base. Valencia, 2 April 2008. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

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At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


get your rhetoric corrected. I think the AC is the worlds oldest (virtually) continuously contested trophy in sports.

The oldest sporting event would likely even pre-date the Olympics, but I don't know for sure, maybe Lacrosee.

At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a question I've never heard the answer for: why couldn't Desafio Espanol find a proper yacht club to represent when it was negotiating with Alinghi to be COR? Even though the protocol they negotiated with Alinghi was garbage it likely would have stood up if they were backed by a proper yacht club. Was it that the yacht clubs saw what Alinghi wanted and backed off?

At 7:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Easy answer, althogh complicated to understand unless you have lived and sail in Spain for many years: why couldn't Desafio Espanol find a proper yacht club to represent when it was negotiating with Alinghi to be COR? Because the club has to offer something more than just a name, and any club wants to receive way more than just the "bumper sticker" on the stern of Desafio's boat. There also is a mafia running the RFEV with Pombo and Chirivella as Al Capone; on top of the regional political conflicts in Spain.

2. I think that they have chosen RCM Abra not due to the alphabetical logic. Is it a coincidence that RCM Abra has been Pecas' (Desafio's bowman) and his dad's boat "Zorongo" their entire life? Pierre, dig on that.


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