The opening press conference set the stage for intense rivalries leading up to the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta in Jeddah, presented by NEOM. With a diverse gathering of Saudi and international media, sailing heavyweights including Peter Burling, Sir Ben Ainslie, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Ruggero Tita, Paul Goodison, and Quentin Delapierre faced a barrage of questions. The resounding message was clear—each team is here not just to race but to emerge victorious.
Ahead of the sailor’s presentation, the stage was taken by Samia Bagdady, the Chief Executive of the Saudi Sailing Federation who explained to the audience the rationale behind the staging of the regatta saying: “We’re super excited and it is in line with the Kingdom’s 2030 sporting vision to increase participation numbers and local awareness. It’s the first time in the America’s Cup history that the oldest event in international sport comes to the Red Sea and we are very excited to showcase what the Red Sea has to offer for sailing.”
For the Federation and the Jeddah Yacht Club, it’s clear that the goal is inspiration as Samia expanded saying: “To raise awareness, the best way is to showcase by example. An event like the America’s Cup with its advanced technology and the highest performing athletes is the best way to inspire the children to be what they can be in sailing…we already have a Performance Pathway that has qualified local sailors to be coaches and develop a whole sporting plan that will hopefully see our nationals qualify for the Olympics and, who know, maybe have a Saudi America’s Cup team one day.”
With the sailors on the stage, the tension notably rose and although friends off the water, it’s abundantly clear the rivalries that are forming ahead of the regatta with everyone concentrated on performance on the water. Peter Burling, skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand spoke of the Kiwi approach saying: “Amazing regatta, incredibly excited to be back out sailing, new town, new place…We want the racing to be close, and hope we can have close racing. As a sailor you want to be tested. We go in with an aggressive mind set, ready to perform. Gutted not to get a shot in that last race at the last regatta.”
Sir Ben Ainslie spoke on behalf of the INEOS Britannia team saying: Vilanova result not what we were looking for…A lot of effort has gone in as to why we were off the pace and we’re focussed hard on upping our game…For us it has been a massive learning curve. A number of reasons why but certainly a wake-up call, in terms of the analysis of our performance and those analysis tools but as frustrating as it was for us it may have saved our campaign.”
Alinghi Red Bull Racing have put considerable resources into this regatta with two boats on-site and some solid blocks of training in Jeddah. They’ve brought in experience in Dean Barker, Phil Robertson and Jason Waterhouse to help tune-up the racing team and as Arnaud Psarofaghis confirmed: “We have put everything in place to raise the game of the racing crew. We are here to win the regatta.”
Competing in his first regatta in the America’s Cup, Ruggero Tita from Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli is many people’s pick to lead the Italians to future glory. For now, expectations were moderated as he said: “For sure it’s a big step. We’re happy to be here to compete…the intensity is really high. We are here for learning. Not many hours in the AC40 but happy to be here and race with these guys…To be honest we are without too much expectation, to do our best and try to take the best out of the racing.”
Winners in Vilanova at the first Preliminary Regatta, NYYC American Magic spent the summer training in AC40s but have switched the programme to the AC75 in Barcelona. Speaking on behalf of the team, helmsman Paul Goodison offered: “It was really successful in Vilanova and the boost it gave back at base, where 100 guys are working day in/day out, made all that work worth working for. Would be big boost to win again here…We took a lot of confidence from Vilanova…and although we’ve spent a lot of time in AC40 and then switched to AC75, the Team still expects to do well, and we are trying to repeat the performance.”
Finally, Quentin Delapierre spoke on behalf of the French Orient Express Racing Team saying: “In Vilanova it was a good feeling, we enjoyed racing and the regatta. It means a lot to a new challenge, and we can feel good energy in team. We’ve worked hard to come here and improve skills with the simulators, and we just have to trust the process and try to race against this unbelievable fleet.”
Fleet racing practice begins at 1.30pm (local Jeddah time) with three races scheduled on Wednesday 29thNovember. Analysis of the practice racing will be available here on www.americascup.com and live, free-to-air across YouTube globally.