Monday, October 18, 2010

Valencia Sailing talks to Philippe Ligot, CEO of Aleph Team France

A couple of weeks ago, a milestone was set for the French aspirations in the 34th America's Cup as the country's first potential challenger for this edition of the trophy was presented in the headquarters of the French Sailing Federation (FFV) in Paris. The project, called "Aleph Team France", is a continuation of Aleph Sailing, the team taking part in the Louis Vuitton Trophy events, the main difference being the official support of the FFV. We talked to Philippe Ligot, CEO of Aleph Team France, about the current status and aspirations of the project.

According to Ligot, their aim is to set a purely French team, relying on the country's undisputed expertise in multihulls, and he's quite optimistic about the prospects. However, they are now facing an uphill battle to get the 50 million euros they have set as strict minimum, necessary in order to have a chance in succeeding, or at least having a decent performance. The deadline they have set is early March next year and if by that time they haven't been able to reach 75% of their target budget they will pull the plug.

Valencia Sailing: The presentation of your project took place in the Paris headquarters of the FFV and you have also announced you have its support and endorsement. What precisely does this support consist of?
Philippe Ligot: At this stage it is simply a recognition. We presented our project to Jean-Pierre Champion [FFV President] 4-5 months ago. We presented to him our approach to the sports, design and mainly managerial aspects of the project. The principles we have adopted are to always be transparent and to try to unite the French drive around this project, not to appropriate it for ourselves but leave it open to the vast majority of people whose talent and expertise would allow us to go ahead.

The support from the FFV is important in France because the vast majority of the potential partners we meet ask us whether we have the endorsement of the federation that regulates our sport. Another important aspect is that most of the sailors that form part of the Aleph sailing crew are also members of the French Match Racing Team, such as Mathieu Richard or Damien Iehl and many sailors very close to the FFV. We have an excellent relationship with the FFV.

Regarding our partnership with the FFV one aspect can be the support of the 492 sailing schools it has throughout the country. What we propose is that one or two of our major potential sponsors can support the schools in exchange for branding opportunities in the schools, the boats or any other form. We want our project to be viewed as popular, accessible and proud of its colors so what better way to do it through the sailing schools of the Federation. Imagine all the Optimist fleet being branded like the national America's Cup team and that could only be a very small part of what we could achieve.

Vive la France! Dream or reality? We'll know by March 2011. Photo copyright Leroy Tremblot / Aleph Team France

Valencia Sailing: Certainly but there is another French project, more than a project actually, a team that took part in the 32nd America's Cup in Valencia that is still very active in the Louis Vuitton regattas and the TP52 circuit. Isn't K-Challenge or All4One or whatever it might be called as much entitled to such endorsement as you are?
Philippe Ligot: The French Sailing Federation can only support French projects. It could be more than one but they could never endorse a foreign project. Wouldn't it be absurd for, let's say, the Swiss Sailing Federation to support a Greek project? Stephane Kandler's project is headed by Jochen Schuemann, a German. Schuemann is undoubtedly one of the most talented and prestigious sailors worldwide but that doesn't change the fact the team has become German. Even if they argued the team was half German the FFV could never support them due to its very nature and objectives. On the other hand we have engaged ourselves to form a project that will be as French as possible.

Valencia Sailing: The 34th edition of the Cup is viewed by many as being much more difficult for any challenger than the 32nd. In view of these difficulties and the short time left to prepare do you think it's feasible to have a purely French team than can also be competitive?
Philippe Ligot: I think we are able to have a competitive, purely French team. The are two aspects in that. First of all, the budget. Our aim is to have a budget of 50 million euros. This is between 60 and 80 million US dollars, the number BMW Oracle estimates as sufficient. However, it's not just the issue of the total amount of money it also depends on when we get it in the bank. If we get it within the next 2-3 months and we have already signed with serious potential partners then my answer to your question is yes, we have the ability to achieve something interesting. If on the other hand we get the budget after a certain date then things become more complicated.

Secondly, regarding our human capital, there are two options. We either set up a project that we jealously try to keep for ourselves, limiting it to a handful of people in France, or we have an open attitude. In France and Switzerland there is a vast know-how in multihulls dating from 20 years ago. We saw it in the ORMA 60's, the Hydroptère, the Extreme 40's where the French are doing well or even the record-breaking maxi catamarans. Our aim is to take all those people, unite them, make them sit on a table and discuss. Unfortunately, and it happens often, the French projects are built around one single person with a huge ego. On the other hand, if we make people understand we are going to build this project on teamwork and we manage to share the sum of our know-how, then it will work. This has always been the problem of the French projects. We, on the other hand, have opened the field to the maximum and we have contacted several big names in France, even the most famous ones, asking whether they would be interested in joining our effort.

Together with Bertrand Pacé, a sailor with a very long America's Cup experience that shares the same open attitude, we agree that if things move along rapidly, we are able to have a serious project that can battle it out with the best. Now, if March comes and we haven't been able to secure our budget or have the necessary human capital then my reply could be different.

Valencia Sailing: So, if I understand well, March 2011 is the deadline you have set in order to decide whether this project goes ahead or not.
Philippe Ligot: It's clear that if by early March we don't have at least 75-80% of the total budget or, at least, are not just about to sign with a serious major sponsor for that amount of money, then we pull the plug. We are not here to fill our pockets or have a token role, we are here to set up a serious project. We have always agreed on that with Bertrand Pacé and the rest of people in the team, from the outset. It's better not to take part rather than be there with a budget half of what we need or with funding that comes in the very last minute. Take for example the number of yachts. It's crystal clear that the teams with just one boat will have absolutely no chance, so we will need to have two.

Valencia Sailing: Let's consider the best-case scenario and tomorrow morning you sign with a big French group and you reach your target budget. Do you still think you will be able to bridge the design and technological gap BMW Oracle has?
Philippe Ligot: Take the example of Team New Zealand. They have never been the team that spent the most but still they have achieved exceptional results in the America's Cup. If we have the money tomorrow morning and we are able to unite the French talent around Bertrand Pacé then I'm convinced that we can achieve great things. Regarding now the advantage BMW Oracle has over the rest, this shouldn't be taken for granted. Imagine if they take a conservative approach in their design while ours is an audacious one? Bertrand will set the strategy of course but it could be one where we take much more risks than the Defender. If challenging were such a simple issue then it wouldn't be the America's Cup.

I might sound immodest but if we have the necessary funding early and we can sit down, talk and reach an agreement then we won't have such a disadvantage. Look a the number of French people BMW Oracle had to use for its trimaran. We have people in France that have been working on those issues since 25 years now. The gap can be narrowed with the incorporation of such people in our team.

Aleph Sailing Team (French flag) races against All4One (German flag). La Maddalena, Italy, May 22nd-June 6th 2010. Photo copyright Bob Grieser/ Vuitton Trophy

Valencia Sailing: How difficult is it to get that funding? How difficult is it to "sell" this edition of the America's Cup, especially with two major hurdles, firstly the unconventional boat type and secondly the fact the venue is still unknown?
Philippe Ligot: It is indeed quite difficult because there are still a few unknowns. We still don't know the venue and we don't even have a base guaranteed if there are more than ten teams. We have no option but let the sponsors we are talking to know this is the context, however we certainly can't wait until we know all the details. The first four teams that apparently have their budgets complete are moving ahead and as a result we simply can't stand still. Their advance will be such that we will never be able to catch up. We are already working on the design side with a group of people we can't sign exactly because of the lack of budget.

Valencia Sailing: Who are these people? Have you already established the core group of your design team?
Philippe Ligot: We have been working with a group of designers and engineers for 6 months now but I can't name them because we can't sign a contract with them. We have been working on the process, Bertrand has spent a lot of time on that issue. We know how many people we will need, how to organize ourselves and whom we would like to work with and we have a very clear idea on how much it will cost. We worked both on the monohull and multihull options.

Our aim is to officially enter as soon as possible and we do have a minimum budget necessary to keep operating while we are marketing ourselves but not the necessary funds to immediately start working on the design. That's our biggest problem right now and if we had the money, the way I suppose Artemis, Team New Zealand and Synergy now have, we would be working on the design with a full team.

Valencia Sailing: Given all those factors don't you think that your presentation and announcement were then precipitated? Wouldn't it have been wiser to wait for the first major sponsor or at least until it became clear the project would go ahead before making any announcement?
Philippe Ligot: The idea was to present our core group. In order for the first major sponsor to sign the core group has to already be in place. There is another problem, very specific to France. Although the sport of sailing is very popular, the America's Cup has a marginal place and for most of the journalists it is just a fight between billionaires. What we wanted to explain was that it wasn't the case. There are always some billionaires that have their own teams but Team New Zealand is mostly a commercially funded team.

The philosophy behind the press conference was to present ourselves, to present the partnership with the FFV, listen to the journalists and answer their questions. I would say the feedback was quite good, we had more than 40 articles in the press, even in places like the Figaro or even L'Equipe [biggest sports newspaper in France and one of the biggest in Europe], a newspaper well known for not being a big fan of the Cup. They do like Formula 1 and sailing the French way, so we tried to show them we are placed between the two. We want to show them we can have a competitive national team without the backing of any rich tycoon. It is up to us then to demonstrate we are capable of achieving a good result. If we do then the America's Cup will certainly have the place it deserves among sports in France.

Valencia Sailing: What is for you a "good result"?
Philippe Ligot: If you want me to reply as a sportsman, it is obvious I would never tell you "I want to take part in that competition and finish fifth". Realistically speaking, if we are guaranteed right now the minimum conditions I told you before, we could very well be among the top three. If on the other hand you ask me again in March and we only have reached 50% of our funding goal then just making the initial cut would be great. If you start in such conditions you are guaranteed to lose and that's why we have set that deadline and funding goal. I told you before, we don't go there to be simple bystanders. If we can't make it, we will just abandon the project. I can guarantee you Bertrand Pacé will be very much in demand, he's already sought after, and as for myself, I have other things to do.

The French team should either be good or not exist!

Aleph Sailing Team (French flag) races against All4One (German flag). La Maddalena, Italy, May 22nd-June 6th 2010. Photo copyright Bob Grieser/ Vuitton Trophy

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At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Regarding now the advantage BMW Oracle has over the rest, this shouldn't be taken for granted. Imagine if they take a conservative approach in their design while ours is an audacious one? Bertrand will set the strategy of course but it could be one where we take much more risks than the Defender. If challenging were such a simple issue then it wouldn't be the America's Cup."

This is a refreshing statement and shows true AC spirit. Quite a difference to what comes from the UK pussies

At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are dreaming if you think 50million euros will be enough. You have been sucked in by the Coutts PR its more like 100 million which is what you will need if you dont have that, you will be like all other French teams of the past weak and making up the numbers....

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bring it!

At 10:04 PM, Blogger WetHog said...

@6:18 PM

Well said.

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 3:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...don't believe BOR numbers, they are not that good with the numbers..

At 3:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

«Imagine if they (Oracle) take a conservative approach in their design while ours is an audacious one?»

A conservative approach?... Kramers, Feddersen, etc making a conservative approach?....

Keep dreaming!

At 8:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it took more than 100 Million for Alinghi to win AC 32. So what's the point?

At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The French will love the idea of going at it without the rich tycoon, as he says. These guys can be a real force. The fact isn very few know how to handle the curved foils on a cat this size, it is really Little America's cup or the French when it comes to driving these blades well, and that will be more important than a few knots of design speed on the short courses promised to us in the World Series. Even the 45s won't give experience in this skill, as they have straight daggers.
It's time to get over your misery, lead lovers, start studying hull flying and how to tack a cat, this ain't your daddy's AC anymore.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger david said...

i do agree that the brits have been pussies. and to have the arrogance that would not do it unless they can win you can as french say aim to be top three and then luck luck/talent manegement and money will decide.
this as all americas cups have been and will be expensive. 50- 100 million who cares 20 million 20 years ago was a lot of money.
origin have really lost a lot of face for both mills and the UK and has definatly not treated "his TEAM " fairly.Everybody knew the likely outcome of a bmw oracle 34 americas cup.

Good luck to the French particually as a National effort.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish the French team well but also understand why Teamorigin decided to pull out. There is only one way to win the Cup and that is to plan and invest to win from day one. Leaving it to lady luck is just too expensive, with your own money it's stupid and with sponsors money irresponsible.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger david said...

but you have to be in it to win it

At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has somebody of you made a proper calculation so fare? I don't think so! If you want to play high society with golden toilet seats and super duper team bases, to host even more expensive events and if you have people on you payroll who want to retire from the money they will get afterwards - Yes you will need more than 100 mil.

At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if the figure is 50million for a competitive campaign, the French are dreaming if they think they can find that... Not a chance!

At 6:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mate some points , 32nd Cup was 4 years Cup ..this is a 3 years one
Under the current economic status , would be nice to have a rule and protocol that allows Teams around 50 millions to be fully competitive , which is not the case , and last Oracle did everything possible to shoot them self on the feet , delaying rules , and still we don't have a fuc...clue where the races will be held plus the Cup...which I guess is important to raise the money of a sponsor when you need to collect 100 milions ....or maybe we should call Robin Hood to get it ???? I honestly think you guys that support this cup and don't see the big management errors , either get a lot of money to shut down your brains...or you are monkeys in a circus

At 6:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guys there is an important difference to spend 100
millions when you like the game ....or this time that you have to spend 100 millions in a game only Oracle likes .... What they don't get is that we have to like the game which is a shame

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:52 AM Anon

If you don't like the game stay out of it. It is as easy as that...

If you can't stand the heat the AC is certainly not meant to be your playground

At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's a very arrogant comment...

At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares what they spend. It is not our money! :)

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Norby said...

oooohhh, someone got their panties on a twist.

At 4:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 4:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anon : You are right . This is what most Teams are doing ...Stay out of the shit game . We complain because we love sailing and we ( 70% of the sailing world ) don't think is the right thing for the sport
for sure they ( Oracle and ML ) can do with the old Vase whatever they want ..but this doesn't mean we should like it and when I say we , you know is a big majority of the sport

At 4:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon , provably you are an ashol...from Oracle . PLEASE ERNESTO , GET THIS RIGHT AGAIN

At 4:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

stupid comment not my money for sure , but you have to raise this budget , and we still don't have a clue where it will be held ...

At 3:31 AM, Blogger WetHog said...

Those crying for Dearest Ernesto conviently forget he is the reason why the AC is moving to multi's in the first place.

The AC32 match between Alinghi and ETNZ was great to watch. All races competitive and Alinghi successfully defending the Cup by winning that final match by 1 second? Fabulous.

The door was open for EB's to build on AC32's success. Instead he introduced a completely new boat (hello to 5-0 Cup matches again), and came up with the bullshit rule that would of allowed Alinghi to race in the Challenger selection series, just to name a couple things.

So BMWO spends a shit load of money developing a tri with a huge wing and they whooped EB's ass. What would you babies expect BMWO to do? Throw all they learned leading up to AC33 away and start over? Yeah right.

So go on and keep crying about no more mono's in the AC, but don't forget to add EB's to the list of those to blame for your dispair. If not your just showing your ignorance.

At 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wet Hog

You are not wrong and everything would be fine if BMWOR had not told the potential Challengers that they would be involved in the boat decision. The majority wanted monos and they were ignored. That's the point.

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wet hog

probably the participation of defender in challenger series is a point for discussion. the rational was however justified by the fact it was a compulsory one boat campaign. real cost cuttings. alinghi proposed to have two boats instead of participating to chalseries but those refused.

if you say no one should cry over the advantage of the defender, why did bor whined annd moaned to now do exactly what they criticised?

the best punishment would be no team entering. not only would they have won the cup without glory, but they would defend it without glory.

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

4:28 AM anon
I think you are taking yourself a little bit too important if you claim to speak "in the name of 70% of the sailing world":
My guess would be that way more than 95% of the people that love sailing don't even give a damn about the AC.
I wonder where you got you numbers from and who you are actually representing (again, my guess is n=1).
Any facts to support your claims?


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