Prada to re-enter America's Cup


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The Independent Online

Italian Fashion house Prada is poised to re-enter the America’s Cup fray after chief executive Patrizio Bertelli announced that he has the backing of his board for a €40m challenge in 2013.

He has switched the base of his challenge from Punta Ala, on Italy’s Mediterranean coast, to the Circolo della Vela Siciliana in Palermo. Bertelli challenged in 2000 and 2003, when the cup was held by New Zealand and was the ultimate challenger in 2000 and then the challenger of record in 2003.

After the noisiest, most stylish but ultimately disappointing challenge in Valencia in 2007, Bertelli had originally said he would not contest the 2013 America’s Cup, to be staged in San Francisco. Larry Ellison’s Oracle Racing first mounted a determined and hugely expensive legal assault on the holder, Switzerland’s Ernesto Bertarelli and his Alinghi team, through the New York courts, and then won easily on the water in a giant trimaran in 2010.

The switch to wing-powered 72-foot multihulls has been retained by Ellison and his four-times cup winner and CEO, Russell Coutts. Bertelli was thought originally to be against that move but may have been persuaded by the commercial opportunities associated with cup participation.

His entry is a significant endorsement of the event and may encourage others to join the party. Until now, only Sweden’s Artemis, headed by Torbjorn Tornqvist, and Team New Zealand, which is part-government funded, were considered certain challengers.

Prada is listed on the Hong Kong Stock exchange and it was notification of the board decision that led to this week’s announcement. The Far East, and particularly Chinese, market is very important to Prada, as it is to the sponsor of the challenger series, Louis Vuitton. There is also a potential challenger from China.

British challenger Sir Keith Mills has withdrawn from the fray and constant rumours about a British replacement have so far proved unfounded. Yet Andy Claughton, design co-ordinator of the shared design package and based at the Wolfson Institute of the University of Southampton, says: “I am staggered that no-one in the UK has seen the opportunity and grasped it.”  

There is a wealth of knowledge in the UK – Claughton is also working with F1 engineering companies McLaren and Cosworth – and he says that much of the design competition is “bog standard low speed aerodynamics.”   

“The real trick is how to organise the control of the hard wing,” he says. “There is a massive engineering competition in that area, and how make the soft sails interact with the wing.”

Claughton is convinced that, as the first of the 72-footers are not due to be launched until next summer, this is exactly the right time to start and that neither of the challengers, nor the defender, has an unassailable lead.

Britain also has plenty of talent and thoughts that deep experience in multihull sailing could be the deciding factor are dismissed. “A good sailor is a good sailor,” says Claughton. “Chris Draper, British double Olympic medallist, has done it in three months for Team Korea.”

The Commodores’ Cup, which features national, three-boat teams in a series every two years of both inshore and offshore races in the Solent and the English Channel, has been boosted by a three-event sponsorship deal with the investment adviser Brewin Dolphin.

Changes to the 2012 edition, organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, will give more flexibility over the choice of boats and will see all of the boats, large and small, start together instead of being split into three groups.

Brewin Dolphin, which has over £24bn under management, already sponsors the Scottish Series – and the Chelsea Flower Show – and plans to open new offices in Ireland, current holders of the cup. A team from Hong Kong also promises to return and there is strong French participation.