The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr John Prescott, launched the summer training session for the first British America’s Cup Challenge in 15 years when he visited the GBR Challenge base in Auckland, New Zealand today.

Wishing the British crew well in their build-up to the Louis Vuitton Cup, Mr Prescott said he had seen first-hand the benefits of winning the America’s Cup during his visit to the base in the Viaduct Harbour.

He urged British people to add their support and challenged businesses to recognise the benefits that New Zealand had gained from the America’s Cup – including its successful defence in 2001.

“This is a fantastic opportunity,” said Mr Prescott. “Peter Harrison and his team are putting everything they have got into this challenge. It is a showpiece for cutting edge British technology and I wish them all the best.

“I was impressed by the professionalism and commitment of every person I met.”

Mr Prescott met the GBR Challenge Chairman, Peter Harrison, for a briefing on the team’s progress since it arrived in Auckland. He toured key areas of the syndicate base including one of the challenge’s training yachts, GBR 52, the engineering workshops, sail loft and meteorological offices.

Harrison said the team had made excellent progress in the 10 months since the Challenge for the Cup was lodged by the Royal Ocean Racing Club with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, but mounting a competitive challenge was an enormous undertaking.

He added that spending time in New Zealand before the event was important experience for the team. There was no substitute for sailing on the home waters of the Cup and getting to know the subtle – and not so subtle – variations of the weather in Auckland.

But while the crew was gaining experience in sailing GBR’s America’s Cup Class yachts, Harrison said the time spent in Auckland had clearly demonstrated the considerable benefits of winning the America’s Cup.

“Everyone from Government Ministers to people working in shops knows about the America’s Cup, what it means for New Zealand and what it has done for Auckland,” he said.

“The Viaduct Harbour was a dilapidated fishing harbour surrounded by old commercial shipping warehouses. The America’s Cup stimulated a complete redevelopment of the area, transforming it into a vibrant, interesting and exciting place.

“The Viaduct is now bordered by all the America’s Cup syndicates on one side, with apartments, bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, offices and apartments around the adjoining areas.

“The New Zealand Government had recognised the Cup’s importance and appointed a Minister for the America’s Cup.

“The Minister, Mr Trevor Mallard, spoke at our official base opening last week, saying the Cup was responsible for $640 million of increase in the NZ GDP including increases in tourism.

“That doesn’t include the additional benefits such as free media coverage, the tourism generated by reaching a worldwide television audience or the considerable benefit to New Zealand’s international prestige by hosting and winning the America’s Cup.

“Mr Mallard told us that the America’s Cup has been at the forefront of development in areas like design, construction and communications. He understands that we are here to fly the British flag – to promote Britain’s expertise in the same way that New Zealand has since winning the Cup in 1995.

Harrison outlined the progress being made in the campaign, and the desire for more partnerships. “The new boat is under construction at Cowes by our boatbuilding team and the Challenge is gaining support from British companies, with its current partners and suppliers including Musto clothing, Lewmar winches and P&O Nedlloyd shipping,” said Harrison.

“We are keen to generate more partnerships to promote this great British initiative and to gain the benefits that will be created by our challenge.”

“The America’s Cup is a technology race and the benefits of competing well ar