Sailing: Conner's fear of Whitbread

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The Independent Online
A warning that the America's Cup is in danger of losing its pre- eminent position to the British-founded Whitbread Round the World Race has come from Dennis Conner.

"I can see the Whitbread taking over from the America's Cup as the premier event in the world of yacht racing," said the man known as "Mr America's Cup", who is in Fremantle to see his yacht, Toshiba, start the third leg of the Whitbread on Saturday.

"There's a huge void that the America's Cup used to fill, so the top spot is there for the taking," he said, expressing dissatisfaction at the television package that has been put together for the next cup in late 1999/2000. The package is making it difficult to attract sponsors which could sink many syndicates.

Conner was sceptical about his own ability to raise the cash needed to be on the start line for the elimination trials due to begin in October 1999. The syndicates have only until September next year to put the bulk of the budget in place. "By then we will know who is not in," he said.

A third Frenchman is to join the Whitbread race leader, Innovation Kvaerner. Sebastien Destremeau will line alongside Pierre Mas and Jacques Vincent for the leg to Sydney, following the departure of Ian Walker.