At the formal launch in Stockholm of the Swedish AC campaign I talked to Iain Percy about the road ahead
“Freddie Loof, he’s our king”, said a Swedish friend at Artemis Racing’s formal announcement in Stockholm. “Of the medals that Sweden won at the last Olympics, his was the only gold.”
Based on that, and of course on the Swedish Star legend’s long and successful sailing career, it’s easy to see why the local media was excited about his appointment to the Artemis Racing America’s Cup campaign. He is joined by his 2014 Star crew Max Salminen adding to the national roll call and increasing the number of Artemis Racing team members that have Olympic medals.
Loof and Salminen’s announcement was also good news for me as Artemis Racing’s team manager Iain Percy wasn’t surrounded by a barrage of TV crews and fluffy microphones making it far easier to sit down and have a chat about the current state of Cup affairs.
“Apart from confirming our entry for the 35th America’s Cup and introducing three of our latest recruits, the message we wanted to send out was that we’re here to win, so don’t be surprised,” said Percy.
Part of that message was driven home by other appointments to the team, in particular Rod Davies, previously Team New Zealand’s head coach, an impressive catch.
“It’s like Real Madrid stealing Manchester United’s coach,” said Percy.
Elsewhere in the 40 strong team there are other examples of players with serious Cup experience and the latest technical know how including multihull legend Loic Peyron, renowned designer Vincent Lauriot-Prevost and structures expert Herve Devaux.
“One of the big differences this time is that we’ve been able to go out and hire talented people, Torbjorn [Tornqvist – team principal] has given me both the backing and the confidence to go out and hire the best,” he continued. “That’s not to say that we didn’t have talent in the team before, but this time one of the key factors is personality. As well as a passion to win we want to build a group of people that are confident yet modest. It’s something that’s always been important to me in our Olympic campaigns, its how Bart and I ran things.
“But its still going to be a huge challenge, even with the right people. After the last Cup we had a reputation as being a nice team to work for. This time around it’s my job to prove to people that we’re a nice team that can win.”
Yet among the list of talented team members with their long and detailed CV’s that make up the 40 strong group there is another aspect of this team that stands out and could well prove to be a big advantage when the pressure comes on.
Unlike Ben Ainslie Racing and Team New Zealand, Artemis Racing is fully underwritten by an individual. Torbjorn Tornqvist is not just a quietly spoken, intellectual individual with deep enough pockets to fund the campaign without blinking, but he believes fervently that there is no ‘I’ in team and is well known as an accomplished sailor and helmsman in his own right. In this respect and in current Cup circles he is unique. According to Percy his style is as far from dictatorial as you can get. He is frequently consulted for advice on a variety of matters, yet seeks the opinions of his team rather than issuing instructions. From the outside at least, the apparent lack of pressure to find commercial partners to ensure that the campaign has the resources to go the distance allows the team to focus on the key elements, the boat, the people and the strategy.
“He frequently helps with the decision making but he’s not on top of us all the time,” continued Percy. “The fact that he dresses just like us in the same team gear is just one small indication as to how he sees himself in the team. But he’s really good at seeing the big picture. For example, he was the one who was pushing to include a youth programme into our campaign. He was also the one who made some of the key signings like Nathan Outteridge early on in our campaign last time around.”
“We’re a tight team with very little management,” he continued. “I remember Grant Simmer, for whom I have the utmost respect, telling me that at Alinghi there was never a vote on key issues, the room just knew which way to go when’s the issues had been debated. That’s much like the way we run our team – it’s also what I’m used to. In our Olympic campaign I never controlled Bart and he never controlled me, but as a team with good people around us the right key decisions were made.”
But for all the team harmony within the Artemis camp the bottom line is that the plans for the 35th Cup are still in a delicate place. At this stage in the proceedings, with the Defender trying to hang onto its advantages and the Challengers trying to get the best deal for themselves, there are plenty of opportunities for the Cup cycle to come off the rails as the post 2007 debacle proves. Yet this time around all the teams whether they be Challengers or the Defender, know how important it is to make sure that a mutually acceptable Cup cycle is achieved.
“If nothing else, everyone sees that after the huge positive impact of the last Cup, the next cycle offers a huge opportunity, not just for America’s Cup racing but for the sport as a whole,” said Percy. “When all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed then it might be time to start thinking about how to get one over, but until then its crucially important to get the 35th Cup sorted.
“There is a new generation of competitors involved this time around, the boat has played a part in that, but within that new generation there’s a group of us who have been through the tough times after 2007 and seen how disruptive the Cup can be. As a result many of us are very keen to make sure that this cycle works, plus I think that we don’t have the same levels of paranoia that might have been present before.”
Yet above all else there’s one message that comes through loud and clear from someone who has seen several different approaches and Cup cycles from tough times and tiny budgets in the +39 campaign, to the personal emotional roller coaster of the last America’s Cup, the next Cup has huge potential.
“The America’s Cup has always had the ability to transform the sport and I firmly believe that this next cycle is going to be the biggest spectacle in our sport.”
And that Sweden now has its own sailing rock stars in its own America’s Cup team.