Kostecki is standing down from his role as skipper, as more shuffling goes on within the team 25/4/06

It has been confirmed that John Kostecki will hand back the reins to former skipper of Ericsson, Neal McDonald from Britain, for the on going legs of the Volvo Ocean Race.

After questions over Kostecki’s future as skipper for the race arose last week ( see news story here ), Kostecki’s commitment to the Michael Illbruck’s Transpac 52 campaign appears to have taken precedence, although the American former Volvo Ocean Race champion will remain as tactician for the in-port races.

Current watch captain Neal McDonald explains: “John came in as skipper in Rio and has had a careful look at all aspects of our campaign. The team has gained much from his input and will benefit from his continued involvement.

“I will be happy to take over as skipper again after the in-port race. We are very fortunate to attract such talented new sailors to the team and I very much look forward to working with them. We will work hard to keep on improving, and hope that our results will reflect the team’s true potential. We will certainly keep on giving it all our energy.”

British navigator for Ericsson, Steve Hayles will also be handing on the baton to American Whitbread veteran Mark Rudiger for legs six and seven. Hayles has given personal reasons for his decision to leave, which comes as little surprise given the recent speculation over his position as navigator after his fall out with watch leader Guillermo Altadill.

Steve Hayles admit: “It has been a hard race. I have given a huge amount of energy to get the boat going better, but at this stage the best thing for me is to make a change.”

Hayles continues: “I have huge respect for Mark. I look forward to working with him and helping him as much as I can. It is good to have someone fresh coming in. I hope that the team will carry on improving in the coming legs.” Hayles will hand over to Rudiger after the Baltimore in-port race.

Mark Rudiger brings great offshore sailing and navigation experience to the team, having won the race in 1997-98 onboard EF Language and finished second on Assa Abloy four years later under Neal McDonald’s leadership. “When I received a phone call asking me to step onboard Ericsson in Baltimore, I immediately said yes,” said Rudiger. “I know most of the Ericsson crew. They are a great group of people, so I am very happy to join them.”

Trimmer Ross Halcrow, like Kostecki, will also be leaving because of commitments to the Transpac 52 campaign.

Other additions to the team are Americas Cup skipper Ken Read together with Australian Ian “Barney” Walker. As a multiple world champion, Read will bring his experience as America’s Cup helmsman of Stars & Stripes to the team. While Walker’s Whitbread/Volvo experience will also be an asset.

Read states: “I have sailed on a lot of high performance boats during the last few years, so I am familiar with them. I have been following the race very closely and am excited to take on this new challenge. I will have to rely on the team to get my learning curve up as quickly as possible.”

Ericsson Racing Team Project Director Richard Brisius ensures that Ericsson is making big changes to improve their performance for the coming legs of the race. “We have been working hard on improving every area, from sail design to crew organization. The changes have proved valuable but there is still a need for progress. We are determined to have the best possible team for each of the remaining legs and will carry on fighting and improving all the way to Gothenburg.”

With this new facelift the team says it is determined to improve on its recent performance and still has sufficient fighting spirit while also claiming that Kostecki’s involvement on the last leg was not in vein.

“My goal was to make everything a little bit better, and to get the team focused. I will remain involved and I am available to sail all the in-port races as tactician.”

He concludes: “Neal is one of the world’s best helmsmen, and having him up on deck is a real bonus to the team’s performance. This is his campaign; it is his team and I believe that he is more determined than anyone to see it do well.”