Team principal Torbjörn Törnqvist and team manager Iain Percy outline their plans, their views and their reservations on the 35th AC
Cats, foils and wingmasts, shortly after the blueprint for the the next generation of America’s Cup boats was revealed, so the Protocol for the 35th America’s Cup was published. At first sight the broad message looked very similar to the 34th Cup in San Francisco where extreme sailing, high speeds and spectacular images lay at the heart of the event. But what do the next wave of potential Challengers think?
Among the teams that have declared their intention to compete in the next cycle, Ben Ainslie Racing (GBR) and Luna Rossa Challenge (ITA) have recently gone public, yet little has been heard from Artemis Racing (SWE). But now, with the AC62 class rules and the Protocol in the pubic domain, team principal Torbjörn Törnqvist and team manager Iain Percy air their views on the next cycle of the America’s Cup.
In an exclusive interview with YW they outline their plans, their views and their reservations on the way that the next Cup might shape up.
“The last Cup ended up with the best racing anyone has ever seen,” said Iain Percy. “While we would have preferred to have been out there fighting for the America’s Cup rather than watching it from ashore, we now want to build on where the Cup left off last year.
“That’s what this Protocol is about and in this respect we support it. There have been comments from others that are more about the politics, but above all else we’re keen that the big picture is not lost,” he continued. “We also believe that there is nothing in the new rules that makes the Cup unwinnable.
“We think the Protocol does address some of the issues from the last event such as safety and boat design and makes a real attempt to reduce the build costs.”
But when it comes to the series and the venues, his team does have some reservations.
“As the boats spent more of their time on foils, the racing became close, in fact very close and caught all of us unawares,” continued Percy. “Suddenly, when you can perform foiling manoeuvres you can keep the racing close. Here the venue plays a big part. If conditions are not suitable for foiling manoeuvres, we won’t have the close racing that was central to the success of the last Cup.”
Team principal Torbjörn Törnqvist is an enthusiastic and experienced racing sailor himself having competed at top level events including the TP52 and RC44 circuits where he has gone head to head with the pros. As a result he is well placed to see the new high octane America’s Cup in context with other events
“Sailing has been battling with a problem of less interest from a non-sailing audience. The 34th Cup was an attempt to change that and in my view this was successful,” he said. “Never before have so many non-sailors been so captivated by the exciting racing.
“The new Protocol takes off from where we ended last time around. It strikes the right balance between standardising and simplifying the build and design process, but leaves enough room to go forward.
“For instance, last time we saw foiling upwind, the next step will be for the teams to foil more consistently and who knows, maybe we will even do foil to foil tacks. I think it’s very exciting.
“It’s also easier for a newcomer to take a product from another team and start from a more advanced position than previously.”
But his initial reservations also come back to that of the venues.
“What is yet to be clarified is where we go and the format of the racing,” Törnqvist continued. “I have to say that it is very sad to see that San Francisco is going to be out because it is the best place for the event, both from commercial and weather points of view.
“From our early studies we have concerns about the weather conditions at the other proposed venues, [San Diego, Bermuda and Chicago] but I think that the organisers will be well aware of that.”
He has additional concerns about how the format for the racing.
“One thing that we have been against is the elimination of challengers in a different venue to that of the America’s Cup,” he said. “We think that is unfair as you could be in completely different wind conditions to the Cup venue. Plus, I’m not sure sponsors will want to commit fully if they don’t know whether they can reach the main venue for the Cup.
“We have voiced our concerns about that and I still remain to be convinced about the logic of that decision.
“Another issue we have is how Challengers deal with pre-events that could be held in light air venues and then perhaps move to a windier venue for the Match while the Defender can gear up for just the latter venue.”
Percy also has concerns about the practicality of various venues for the next Cup cycle.
“As far as I can see there are things that would add costs rather than reduce them,” he said. “To have two events in two different parts of the world seems a completely unnecessary cost.”
“In addition, the conditions at a venue play a crucial role when it comes to running an event. Delays to racing have been the curse of top flight racing. I believe that you can’t go beyond two days of delays before you lose the spectators forever. The world is too busy for repeated delays every week.”
So do they think that the balance remains too far in favour of the Defender?
“There are some disadvantages that have been taken away from the Defender that will require a bit of getting used to, such as the Defender racing against the Challengers,” said Percy. “We’re not as up in arms about it as some others, but it is still a significant change. There is also still uncertainty as to when you can sail against another opponent at the venue of the Match.”
So will Artemis Racing challenge?
“We are still working through the Protocol and some other issues, I don’t know,” said Törnqvist. “i think we are a bit like everybody else. Ben Ainslie and Luna Rossa have both launched their teams, but they haven’t officially challenged as far as we know. We have announced our team and will look at the detail of what comes next.”
Unlike the Protocol that was negotiated between the Defender and the Challenger of Record without consultation with other Challengers, the AC62 class rule had been circulated more freely beforehand. But there is one clause in particular that could raise concerns, namely the rule that states that the Defender and Challenger of Record, ‘may amend the AC62 class rule in any respect.’
Is this a concern for Artemis Racing?
“We believe that the intention of this rule is to allow for say a change in the size of the wing to suit the conditions at a particular venue,” said Percy. “Having said that it is the biggest single issue we have with the rule because it is the one thing that they could change. We asked if they could highlight the areas of the rule that might change, but they chose to leave it vague.”
The last cycle was a stressful affair for Artemis Racing with some very dark days, so how does the team’s head see the future?
“It is a huge challenge that is still irresistible, although it is not justifiable,” joked Törnqvist. “I like what I see, the America’s Cup is on the right track and we feel that we have a shot at it.”
“But I don’t think we should kid ourselves that there will be a huge difference in the costs. The biggest cost is personnel. If someone thinks they can halve the cost, that’s not going to happen. The new rules are more about containing costs.
“These are very exciting times, the America’s Cup is truly at the leading edge and I’m proud to be a part of that. I think that there is a good chance that we will see more good teams, close racing and close battles and it will be even better than last time.
“But the event has got to be in the right place. We cannot have cancellations and the racing has got to be in a strong breeze. Sailing is about wind, these foilers are about wind. It is important not to get carried away with commercial considerations. I get concerned when I hear this.”