With less than seven months to the start of the 37th America’s Cup, Orient Express Racing Team and its three sailing squads are geared up and ready for the challenges ahead as they welcome their LEQ12 test boat.
Based in Barcelona since summer 2023 the 115-strong French challenger is honing the skills of their three race teams, preparing to take the helm of the LEQ12, the modified version of their AC40 which is a technical stepping stone to the AC75 Cup boat, while also developing the required hydrogen-powered support vessel.
At the same time Orient Express Racing Team is proud that all three teams of talented sailors — the Challenger, Youth and Women’s America’s Cup squads — have been awarded the ‘Equipe de France’ label by the French Sailing Federation, an honorific title based on recent collective sporting performance. It follows recently receiving the official high patronage of Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic.
“Carrying this label gives us a duty of representation and excellence that goes beyond individual sporting results,” said Bruno Dubois, CEO and sporting director of Orient Express Racing Team.
“We represent a country; we wear the colours of the nation to win an international sporting competition. We’re proud of that.”The award coincides with a step-change in preparation for the race teams, with dedicated training programmes in place for each of the 25 sailors involving physical and technical development.Thierry Douillard, coach of the Challenger team for the 37th America’s Cup, said: “First and foremost, I’d like to highlight the quantity and quality of the work done over the past year. It was a real challenge to line up at the 1st AC pre-regatta in Vilanova last September. We more than met the challenge. Beyond expectations. And that’s thanks to the extremely serious work of all the departments: technical, sporting and design, with development and training on the simulator beforehand.
“Starting this week, we’ll be tackling a crucial new training phase. The transition of the AC40 one-design to the LEQ12 format. We’re starting to put in the technology that will later be implemented on the AC75.
“We’re really starting to take on the technological challenge of the America’s Cup. It’s work that we’ve been anticipating for months. It’s THE big step over the coming weeks, which will enable us to learn the functionalities of the future boat and to test them. It’s a huge challenge.”
The challenge has also been embraced by the Youth squad, which will be competing in the third edition of the Youth America’s Cup, and Women’s team who will be taking part in the first ever Puig Women’s America’s Cup.
“The pace is going to be intense,” said Charles Dorange, who coordinates the Youth and Women’s teams within the Orient Express Racing Team.
“But these are top-level athletes who are familiar with this intensity. They all have ambitions for the group and are highly motivated.
“Our aim, along with the French Sailing Federation, Team France, Orient Express Racing Team and our partners, is to help these talented sailors to get to grips with the AC40, an exceptional flying boat, and to help them to perform at their best: training sessions, 69F and ETF26 regattas, observation of the Challenger on the water, data analysis, physical preparation, not forgetting the cohesion of the group, everything will be worked on.”
Alongside racing preparation the French team is also maximising the technological and commercial opportunities presented by the America’s Cup.
“Since its inception, the America’s Cup has been a major technological incubator, the competition that most rhymes with innovation.” Stephan Kandler, Founder of K-Challenge and CEO of Orient Express Racing Team. “As is often the case, competition pushes us to be better and more creative, for instance the rules for the next America’s Cup require teams to have a high-speed hydrogen foil boat (HSV) as the only assistance allowed in the race area.”
Orient Express Racing Team, through its R&D subsidiary K-Challenge LAB, is working with a European consortium comprising Bluegame and EoDev supported by the Accor group and the Philippe Briand Design architectural firm.
Kandler added: “K-Challenge LAB is a French technology team made up of the best talents in the country with internationally recognised skills. It is working for the future and participating in the ecological transition of mobility. The first HSV will serve as a laboratory for developing version 2, which will be dedicated to the commercial market for coastal powerboats under 30 metres. This new model will be presented at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Nice in June 2025.
“Our project has the support of the French Secretary of State for the Sea, following the signature of an R&D partnership agreement, which will enable the widespread use of the technological elements of the hydrogen boat as part of the France Mer 2030 initiative.”
The countdown is well under way as Orient Express Racing Team continues its steady progress on several fronts.