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Bruno Dubois

We of course know that the summit still lies ahead, but Orient Express Racing Team can take some satisfaction in successfully racing the AC40, transitioning to the LEQ12, confirming our three race squads, securing more backing and setting up base in Barcelona – and so hitting all of our milestones to date.

France’s challenge for the 37th America’s Cup will kick off with the Louis Vuitton Cup round-robins at the end of August, a deadline that’s being faced head-on in a positive spirit by the team that was the last to throw their hat into the ring. Looking back, it’s still pretty amazing that the Orient Express Racing Team’s AC40 only took to the water at the end of August last year, a significant moment for the project… and that we only announced our participation in the pinnacle of yacht racing representing the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez in January 2023.

The project had of course been planned before that under the KChallenge banner thanks to Stephan Kandler’s focused drive for support. So when we were able to go live we were joined by several stars of the French sailing scene who had already committed, alongside very willing new recruits, for a core team that now includes Franck Cammas, head of performance, coach Thierry Douillard, COO Louis Viat, skipper Quentin Delapierre, chief technical officer Antoine Carraz and head of design Benjamin Muyl, as well as other America’s Cup aces who added their formidable experience.

On the equally mission-critical commercial side, the project was able to announce the support of the Accor Group and its All.com and Orient Express brands, the latter as title partner. Further invaluable support came from cosmetic giant L’Oréal Groupe, the international Photomaton ME Group and, most recently, the high-performance Alpine car brand which is part of the Renault Group.

At the sharp end of the business we faced our first competitive outing in September only 10 days after getting the AC40 out on the water, a baptism of fire in the form of the America’s Cup first preliminary regatta in Vilanova i la Geltrú near Barcelona.

It would be an understatement to say that we, the French newbies, surprised the fleet – putting down a serious marker by winning the first ever official race in AC40s and taking a podium in the second, to end the opening day of the regatta at the top of the scoreboard. Though we missed out on a place in the final, Orient Express Racing Team impressed many with a third overall ahead of the Italians, Swiss and British.

Our race squad with Quentin Delapierre, Kevin Peponnet, Matthieu Vandame and Jason Saunders, along with the whole team, took the result in their stride, well aware of the long road that lay ahead. This was the case at December’s second preliminary event in Jeddah, where technical problems on the second day derailed our challenge and saw us finish at the foot of the table. Disappointing, of course, but the experience served to make us more resilient and ultimately stronger.

Main picture: As for all of the America’s Cup teams in Barcelona the days are long and the testing and training are relentless. However, being based in the Spanish Mediterranean does have compensations, including beautiful sunsets for your evening sail back to base

We have just one more preliminary regatta to come, in Barcelona from 22 to 25 August, where along with the other teams we will race our new AC75 for the first time ahead of the Louis Vuitton Cup and the main event itself.

Our campaign signed off a hectic but highly productive 2023 with the announcement of our Youth and Women’s America’s Cup squads. The roster of 13 sailors – which includes several Olympians and world, European, match racing and youth champions – were selected following a near year-long programme of assessment and collaboration with the French Sailing Federation, the Ecole Nationale de Voile et des Sports Nautiques and Team France, as well as the financial support of Nextworld.

The women’s squad, which will be competing in the first ever Women’s America’s Cup, comprises Pauline Courtois, Lara Granier, Jessie Kampman, Audrey Ogereau, Aloïse Retornaz and Amélie Riou, led by skipper Manon Audinet.

The youth squad – all aged between 18 and 25 – is led by Enzo Balanger and features Ange Delerce, Lou Mourniac, Matisse Pacaud, Théo Revil and Gaultier Tallieu.

Since the start of this year we have been focused on converting our AC40 into the LEQ12 format, a vital part of the process allowing our team to test the systems we will be using on the AC75 once delivered. In a nutshell, the foil flaps and rudders on the AC40 are controlled by an onboard computer which is not allowed on the AC75. We’re effectively switching the boat to manual control.

When the AC75 is delivered and in action the LEQ12 will revert to its AC40 one-design format, which will then be used by our Women and Youth squads as they prepare for their own America’s Cup challenges.

Of course, once the AC75 is in action the cyclor squad will come into their own, the literal powerhouse behind the sailing team which has been drawn from a range of disciplines. In the meantime, Germain Chardin, Maxime Guyon, Olivier Herlédant, Tim Lapauw, Antoine Nougarede, François Pervis and brothers Rémi and Thibaut Verhoeven are refining their training.

As ever, the simulator from Muyl Design has provided vital training opportunities over the winter months for all three race squads.

Also on the shore, it has been an enormous pleasure as well as a great honour for all of us to receive the public support of French president Emmanuel Macron when he announced his official patronage of Orient Express Racing Team.

The support of the president of the French Republic highlights our national sailing team’s drive to win the America’s Cup as well as our important role in developing new maritime technology, working with a consortium of French companies – a partnership that will also deliver the new hydrogen-powered support boat that is required under the America’s Cup Protocol.

This level of innovation is particularly complex to deliver in the time available, so K-Challenge Lab is working with a group made up of the Bluegame Shipyard and French company EODev, which is in turn supported by the Accor Group and the French naval architecture firm Briand Design.

We are confident that we will have our new boat in place by the summer as Orient Express Racing Team moves ahead on all fronts… advancing smoothly through the gears.

Click here for more information on the Orient Express Racing Team »

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