Interesting America's Cup strategy for Lladro-sponsored China Team. Sue Pelling reports 19/5/06

 They know they are not going to win, their sponsors know they are not going to win yet the China Team – one of the 11 challengers for the 2007 America’s Cup – couldn’t be more determined to succeed in their long-term plan.

Sponsored by the Valencia-based company Lladro – manufactures of fine porcelain figurines – Team China (originally known as the French team Le Defi) are using this event as a platform in their long-term strategy to succeed as a front runner at future America’s Cup events.

The Team China project began two years ago with a joint venture between Le Defi and Chinese investor Chaoyang Wang who not only wanted to see China challenge for the America’s Cup for the first time ever but to use the challenge as a crucial method for the future development of sailing in China.

Unfortunately for the team lack of time on the water was reflected in their performance this week in Valencia during Act 10 where they failed to win a race. Even with a new boat due early next year, there’s no substitute for time on the water and at this late stage – just 11 months before the Louis Vuitton Cup – Team China seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that their ACC campaign is long-term.

Pierre Mas skipper of the Challenge commented: “When you start sailing just five days before the event you can’t expect to be in the same league as those who’ve been here for a year. We know where we are and we know where we are going.

The idea is to integrate as many Chinese sailors into the project as possible to develop not only a truly international ACC crew for the China Team but to provide an opportunity for China to promote itself by showing what it is capable of from a technical and sporting point of view.

Mas continued: “Our project is a long-term project and everybody knows we will not build a strong 100 per Chinese team in 10 days, even in six months and even in one year, so our goal is to teach these people how to work this boat and become a professional team. And I think in China we have the potential, with the people, with the company and the finance to build a very strong team for the next cup. And for 2007 build the basement for that project.”

With this in mind it wasn’t surprising that Lladro chose Team China when looking for a team to sponsor for the 2007 America’s Cup, commenting Alain Viot -managing director of Lladro – said: “We decided on the China team because they were the most creative, they were very interested in creating a collaboration, it wasn’t just a case of putting our name on their boat. The other reason was because it’s a very international team integrating Chinese, French and Spanish sailors.”

Interestingly Lladro is the only private company in Valencia sponsoring an ACC team but they already see their involvement as a great success, Viot added: “?it’s a great achievement. Being in the America’s Cup is, for us, like being in the First League football. We [America’s Cup and Lladro] share a lot of values: many years of history, elite, and always challenging to be the best, to innovate. Probably the only international elite sport that is 100 per cent natural, with the elements, the same as our collection.”

For now the China Team are working hard on their mission to succeed despite having their time cut out training young, inexperienced ACC crews from China and finalising decisions on the design of their new yacht. For the time being they’re using 79 one of their two Le Defi boats. According to Mas they’ve spent the winter upgrading the boat by taking all the best components from 69, the boat they used last year, including deck gear, keel and mast. Mas continued: “?I think we have improved the boat quite a lot particularly with the new sails. Until now we are quite happy with the speed of the boat? The boat in this configuration is a lot better than last year but we need to sail a lot more together.”

To comply with the ACC rules the new boat, to be known as ‘Made in China’ will be built in China. Although the design specification has yet to be finalised the build is due to commence at the beginning of July with an estimated delivery time of early February.

The new boat will be built by McConaghy Boats and China’s JinLi Composites who have announced a powerful joint venture partnership to be known as McConaghy International. Commenting on the forthcoming design and build programme Mas concluded: “We know that if we didn’t build the boat now it would be almost impossible to be in the competition next year. The design is not complete yet. We have to take advantage of being late which is to see what the others have done and to see how they perform. Then we will make our final decisions.”