BY Anna Cummins on 10 Jul 2023

Jason Saunders, a double Olympic representative for New Zealand in the 470 and Nacra 17 classes, has been named in the French America's Cup squad, announced by the Orient Express Racing Team.

Saunders qualifies to sail for France on the basis that he has lived in France for more than the required period and dates, specified in the Protocol governing the 37th America’s Cup in 2024. He is currently sailing with the Swiss SailGP team, along with triple America’s Cup winner, Glenn Ashby. The other four sailing members of the French America’s Cup team are all part of the SailGP France team — operated by the same organisation as the America’s Cup team.

Saunders, who is married to a French resident, lives in the major sailing centre of La Rochelle on the west coast of France.

Spain SailGP Team and Denmark SailGP Team in action on Race Day 1 of the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix in Christchurch - photo © Felix Diemer SailGP

ITM New Zealand Sail GP in Christchurch. Photo: Felix Diemer SailGP

He sailed for New Zealand, as crew for Paul Snow-Hansen, in the 470 class at the 2012 Olympic Regatta, finishing fifth overall. At the 2016 Olympic Regatta in Rio de Janeiro, he crewed with Gemma Jones (recently announced as a trialist for the NZ Womens America’s Cup team) in the Mixed Multihull event, finishing 4th overall and winning the Medal Race.

Since then he has sailed with the Swiss SailGP team, and also for early regattas last year with the Live Ocean ETF26 team.

With the unveiling of the sailing squad, Orient Express Racing Team — the French Challenger for the 37th America’s Cup — has reached another significant milestone en route to next year’s showdown in Barcelona.

The announcement precedes the imminent arrival of the team’s AC40 foiling monohull at the Spanish venue, a vital component in their training trajectory ahead of the delivery of the AC75 America’s Cup race boat next year

Quentin Delapierre and Kevin Peponnet will be the helmsmen for both the AC40 Orient Express and AC75, with François Morvan, Matthieu Vandame and Jason Saunders the trimmers. Between them the quintet bring vast experience at an Olympic and international level, with their skills forged more recently in the intense heat of the SailGP racing circuit.

New Zealand SailGP Team Australia SailGP Team and Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team in action on Race Day 1 of the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix in Christchurch photo © David Gray SailGP

New Zealand, Australia and Emirates Great Britain SailGP Teams in Christchurch. Photo: David Gray/SailGP

At the same time the squad of ‘cyclors’ — the powerhouses who provide the energy needed to operate the AC75’s controls — were named as Germain Chardin, Maxime Guyon, Olivier Herlédant, Tim Lapauw, Antoine Nougarede, and brothers Rémi and Thibaut Verhoeven. The group comes from backgrounds in sailing, rowing, cycling and crossfit, all also with international and Olympic credentials.

“There is no doubt that importing the mutual experience and teamwork honed on the SailGP circuit of Quentin, François, Matthieu and myself to the Orient Express Racing Team is a logical move,” said Peponnet.

“Add to that the experienced technical and shore teams, and the depth of talent we have to call on throughout the build-up to the America’s Cup, and we are quietly confident that we will be in a position to climb the mountain ahead of us and be fully in contention in September next year.

“We have had great and ongoing high-value training on the simulator thanks to the excellent work by our chief designer Benjamin Muyl and his team, and now we are eager to add real time experience on the AC40 on the Barcelona race course from mid-August.”

Four of the five Orient Express Racing Team are sailing as part of the SailGP France team in Season 4 of SailGP © Felix Diemer SailGP

Four of the five Orient Express team are sailing as part of the SailGP France team. Image: Felix Diemer/SailGP

The new developments follow on from the May announcement of the Women and Youth squads. 

Construction of the AC75 at Multiplast, Vannes in the Morbihan region of France is ongoing, with French technical expertise front and centre with the development of the sailing simulators, electronics, mechatronics and IT, with the large foiling monohull set for delivery next May. Also in-build is the team’s base in Barcelona under the watchful eye of Louis Viat, which will accommodate first the AC40 along with part of the team, and then the AC75.

Stephan Kandler, co-director of Orient Express Racing Team alongside Bruno Dubois, said: “The collaboration we have evolved already with French service providers, who bring world class levels of skill and know-how to the project, has been great. The technological challenge at the heart of the America’s Cup will enhance knowledge and generate economic spin-offs for the French maritime industry, and that is very important to us.”

The America’s Cup has always been at the cutting edge of technological development, and never more so than in the current campaign. The imperative to create a seamless integration between the state-of-the-art technology and the crew has led to the involvement of the highly experienced Franck Cammas as Head of Performance within the team.

“My role with Orient Express Racing Team is to act as a link between the sailors and the design and technical teams, in the interests of performance,” said Cammas.

“To be competitive, you need a well-designed boat and a crew who know how to use it and understand how it works. To achieve this, there needs to be good communication between the departments, so that we can refine and adjust the way we use the boat, going beyond the models and taking into account how the sailors feel about it.”

The SailGP fleet in action on Race Day 1 of the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix in Christchurch - photo © David Gray SailGP

The SailGP fleet in action. Photo: David Gray/SailGP

With so much achieved in the short time since the Orient Express Racing Team announced its Cup challenge back in February, the project has also received the support of Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, France’s Minister of Sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“We are proud to have come so far in such a short space of time,” said Bruno Dubois.

“We started with a group of sailors who already knew each other from the top level of international competition, like team coach Thierry Douillard, sports coach Killian Philippe, and performance coach Thomas Sammut, and the whole team has grown together.

“There is still a long way to go to the America’s Cup, and we are not closing any doors on the possibility of adding other talented sailors to the group.”

The Orient Express Racing Team will be in Barcelona in August when the team settles into V1 of their base in the Catalan capital, and they start sailing aboard the AC40 Orient Express.

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