The Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team : Seeking Swiss precision

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The Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team opened the doors of its Switzerland headquarters to the world to present both its sailing and design teams after a rigorous selection process. Magnus Wheatley was in Ecublens to meet the team challenging for the 37th America’s Cup.

Set well into the Swiss countryside, a kilometre or so from the vast expanse of Lake Geneva, and a ten-minute drive from downtown Lausanne, the aptly named ‘Chemin des Large Pièces’ an industrial estate on the outskirts of the town of Ecublens is the new headquarters of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team.

Amidst birdsong and a million flying summer bugs, the Decision S.A. facility famed for its quality and the company’s long heritage with the boats of Ernesto Bertarelli was the setting for a unique press gathering to introduce the sailing and design teams for this 37th edition of the America’s Cup.

Never before has a media event been held actually inside a carbon oven – in fact, ‘the’ carbon oven where the Swiss AC 75 hull, deck and structure will be created as mandated in the strict rules of build in the Deed of Gift. As a spectacle it was magnificent and for those of us that have been around the Cup scene for a while, very different. And very Alinghi Red Bull Racing 2022.

Every detail was thought through from the media passes crafted out of (winning) recycled GC32 sailcloth to the omnipresent Red Bull branding – such a vibrant, vital, energetic addition to the Cup world – to the croissants and canapes. Precision. Swiss Precision. Immediately the welcome was warm, and the sense of unity was more than real. This is a team that means business in this 37th America’s Cup and they are very much doing it their way as Adolfo Carran, design co-ordinator, said to me: “We are concentrating on the things we can control in front of ourselves. We are seeking excellence. If we can be excellent everywhere then the rest follows.”

And as the presentation got underway, it became very clear that ‘excellence’ is already well embedded in the team. A super-slick four-minute media storyboard of how the sailing team were selected was a masterpiece of creation. Nils Frei, long-term member of the team, double America’s Cup winner, and now very much one of the guiding forces in the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team, led the selection trials with Pierre-Yves Jorand, Team Director, overseeing and what has been formed came from the very best of youthful competitive Swiss sailing.

As the team were introduced in two sections – the ‘driving group’ and the ‘power group’ – what struck was just how together they looked as a unit and how comfortable they were in each other’s company. Replete in a classy navy team uniform, a brand that will make its mark on the America’s Cup for sure in Barcelona, many have sailed together for a long time but as ambassadors for not only Swiss sailing but for the new generation of foiling stars, charged with delivering the America’s Cup back to Switzerland, they were impressive.

With the team announced, the final dramatic scene of this slickly produced short film was a mobile call from skipper Arnaud Psarofaghis to Principal Designer, Marcelino Botin saying: “We have the crew, now we need the boat.” To which Botin replied: “Yes we can help you,” before he turned to me with a chuckle as we stood watching the credits roll and said: “We are not actors!” But it was very good, and the considerable marketing influence of principal sponsor Red Bull was much in evidence.

And be in no doubt, the America’s Cup means a lot to Switzerland. In the Uber on the way to Ecublens my driver raved about bringing the “Cup of America” back home. The concierge at the hotel in Lausanne was even more ebullient, effusing wildly and at length about the brilliance of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team and how they were competing at the Bol d’Or Mirabaud this weekend. Sailing is a big deal all the way up and around Lake Geneva, more so than in many sailing areas, and more permeated into the natural lexicon of the wider public. They truly love their home team.

At the heart of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team is its skipper, Arnaud Psarofaghis who has grown rapidly, impressively and with ease into the role as the leader of the sailors. He’s super-fit, professional, concise, affable and clearly enjoys the respect of his team around him. As a leader he is going to be one to watch in this cycle for sure.

We chatted about International Moths (he still sails one) and the GC32 circuit where the team have two boats – one which regularly sees Ernesto Bertarelli himself sail aboard – and the TF35 which they are enjoying the challenge of sailing and will contest the Bol D’Or Mirabaud on at the weekend. “We can be sailing in almost all conditions on the Lake very quickly and can test out ideas and sharpen our crew work. It’s fantastic,” Psarofaghis told me.

And the results are showing with notable wins in early season regattas such as the Genève-Rolle-Genève and TF35 Grand Prix in Mies. The sailors are very much doing it their way on a busy schedule around the European high-performance foiling circuit and it’s abundantly clear that they are spending a lot of time on the water (the suntans don’t lie) as well as considerable time locked in the simulator, housed upstairs at the Ecublens headquarters, away from prying eyes.

Joseph Ozanne, formerly of the American Magic Team, is the ‘Simulator Lead’ and it was fascinating to catch up with him. “Of course, the team have never sailed an AC75 yet, so we are re-creating that experience in the simulator, and they are running through many, many scenarios. But equally with the simulator we can approach it from a design angle and test out a lot of ideas which is important.”

Much was made in the presentation of the 900kg reduction in overall all-up weight with the crew numbers going from 11 to 8 and the increase in foil span of some 500mm. Adolfo Carran, design co-ordinator was more than happy with the design direction: “These will be different boats to the first edition at AC36 and you would expect that. A lot of concentration in the rule has been around getting the boats to fly faster in the lower wind conditions but we also have to be mindful of the stronger conditions too. We are looking for an all-round excellent package.”

We jokily opined about the potential for gradient breeze in Barcelona in September and October 2024 but that was met, quite rightly, with the age-old sailor’s adage of: “If you can tell me what the conditions will be like in 2024, I would be very happy. Let me know.” The design challenge for all teams is mighty and Marcelino Botin, Principal Designer, was under no illusions that: “We have to do catch up.” But the team are working effectively together, with vast experience to draw on, and that’s key to success in any America’s Cup cycle.

Adding to the experience, the design team has the excellence of Red Bull Applied Technologies to call upon and as Botin announced: “We are benefitting hugely from that relationship as clearly these boats have an aero component over conventional boats.” When asked, Adolfo Carran, design co-ordinator, enthused that the relationship with Red Bull Advanced Technologies was strong: “We are in constant dialogue with the team at Red Bull Advanced Technologies as the design comes together and it’s going to be very useful going forward as the control elements come onstream. Generating the power is one thing but it has to be power with precision.”

And that’s a concept not lost on the sailors. In hiring some of the most powerful Swiss athletes after an exhaustive process that analysed not only strength but character from across sailing, cycling and rowing disciplines, the team will have an output to match any in this America’s Cup cycle. “They even broke the rowing machine in the tests,” Pierre-Yves Jorand opined wryly, and we’ll start to see the ‘power group’ as they are known in action on the water when the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team take to the waters off Barcelona for their first test runs in the rebranded Emirates Team New Zealand vessel ‘Te Aihe’ this summer.

The boat has been transported to Barcelona and is now in final preparation ahead of the first 20 days of sailing permitted for qualifying new teams under the Protocol governing the America’s Cup for the 37th edition. It will be a big moment for the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team, for the sailors, for Barcelona the host venue and for the America’s Cup itself.

The Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team is very much operational. It’s an impressive team structure in the mould of their winning teams of before. All round there is a professionalism from the team members, precision in execution and huge attention to detail in everything from the crew uniforms to the build facility to the overall presentation. Those base doors are now locked, the yard is a high-security zone from here. It was privileged access to the inner sanctum.

Youthful Swiss brilliance is being backed with strong guiding forces from highly experienced Cup campaigners and the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team look more than up for the task ahead.

The 37th America’s Cup just got interesting. Very interesting.