America’s Cup: Kiwi named in French team

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

Jason Saunders, a double Olympic representative for New Zealand in the 470 and Nacra 17 classes, has been named in the Orient Express Racing Team sailing squad.

France joined as the event’s fifth challenger in January.

Saunders qualifies to sail for France in the 37th America’s Cup (12-20 October 2024) on the basis that he has lived in France for more than the required period and dates. 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 lives in La Rochelle, a major sailing centre, on the west coast of France.

He sailed for New Zealand, as crew for Paul Snow-Hansen, in the 470 class at the 2012 Olympic Regatta, finishing 5th overall. At the 2016 Olympic Regatta in Rio de Janeiro he crewed with Gemma Jones (recently announced as a trialist for the NZ Women’s America’s Cup team) in the Mixed Multihull event, finishing fourth 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.

The announcement of the full Orient Express Racing Team team comes shortly before the arrival of the team’s AC40 foiling monohull at the Spanish venue.

The French K-Challenge is now the Orient Express © Geoff McKay
Image courtesy of Geoff McKay

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 as the trimmers.

At the same time the squad of ‘cyclors’ — 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.

“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,” says 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.”

In July, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli conducted its first sailing session at the 37th America’s Cup venue. It joined NYYC American Magic and Alinghi Red Bull Racing, which were all out training.

Construction of the AC75 at Multiplast, Vannes in the Morbihan region of France, is ongoing, with the large foiling monohull set for delivery next May (2024).

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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