June 17, 2017 / 4:39 PM / 2 months ago

Sailing-French legend Cammas targets next America's Cup

HAMILTON, Bermuda, June 17 (Reuters) - French sailing hero Franck Cammas is hoping that defending champions Oracle Team USA will beat Emirates Team New Zealand and win the America's Cup to ensure France's future in the competition.

Much more is at stake than who wins the "Auld Mug", the world's oldest international sporting trophy, as the final of the competition gets underway in Bermuda's Great Sound on Saturday.

A win by New Zealand could threaten France's continued sponsorship by French insurance group Groupama as the Kiwis have not signed up to a framework agreement that was designed to ensure continuity for the competition.

"Yes, I'm hoping for an Oracle win, it's just my point of view for Team France ... Oracle will be good for the future of the America’s Cup itself," the French skipper said.

If New Zealand are victorious, the location and format of the regatta as well as the high-adrenalin 50-foot foiling catamarans that are battling for sailing's ultimate prize could change dramatically.

All five other teams signed up to the framework agreement in January, which aims to encourage more teams to compete by using the same boats to cut the multi-million dollar costs of mounting a campaign, encouraging more teams to participate, and helps to secure television broadcast rights.

"If we have to change hulls, its almost twice the price to have our chance to perform," Cammas said.

The French team is waiting to hear if Groupama will continue their sponsorship, which is expected within the month, after a good performance in the America's Cup despite coming to the competition late and with the smallest budget.

"I’m pretty sure Groupama won’t go if the Kiwis win so we have to change out proposal. We will try but I think we will have less chance to achieve that," Cammas said.

The French are working on other funding alternatives as they wait to hear if they will be able to continue their campaign, which produced a competitive boat and crew in a remarkably short space of time.

CONVINCING VICTORIES

Despite the odds, Cammas and his crew proved that their boat was fast and had winning form, with unexpected but convincing victories over Sweden's Artemis Racing by three seconds and Britain's Land Rover BAR.

Cammas, a former Jules Verne Trophy holder and skipper of Groupama Team France, is one of France's most accomplished sailors. Although it was sometimes difficult for him to be coming from behind, he and his team now have a clearer vision of what it takes to perform in the America's Cup.

Uncertainty around the format is, however, making the French team's story a difficult commercial sell. Securing sponsorship quickly is vital as the hi-tech boats are so complex that they require design and sailing time that the French team just did not have this time around.

"If you go to the sponsor now and you tell them we don't know where the competition is, which boat or how much money we need, we cannot sell anything," Cammas said.

Despite the difficulties of not knowing, Cammas is determined to keep his campaign and team together at their base in Lorient, Brittany.

"My first objective is to do the next campaign with more possibility of performance," he added.

Cammas, who showed his determination by battling back to the peak levels of fitness required to sail the demanding boats after a serious injury in training in late 2015 nearly severed his foot, sees his future with the America's Cup, which remains his goal.

"Before the first match I was very happy to be at the start line against Oracle, it was the first time for me and the America’s Cup is my dream," he said. (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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