illbruck puts out an SOS

Glenn Bourke makes one last attempt to keep the German challenge on track for the America's Cup

Wednesday March 13th 2002, Author: Andy Rice, Location: Australasia
illbruck Challenge's chief executive Glenn Bourke put out one last call for Germany's first ever America's Cup campaign to be rescued from extinction. Just arrived in Bremen, north Germany, he told madforsailing: "We're just hoping that somebody might throw us a lifeline, for a project that is 80 per cent completed." The project is indeed a frustratingly long way down the track, with the new ACC boat just three weeks away from completion. "The hull and the deck have been put together - it looks like an America's Cup boat," said the Australian CEO. And yet it also looks as though that hull will never carry the green and white livery of the illbruck Challenge.

Challenge head Michael Illbruck had originally announced a cut-off date of 1 April for sponsorship to arrive, but Bourke said their financial predicament made it prudent to fold the Challenge sooner than later. That said, Bourke still holds a 10 per cent chance of the Challenge going forward in some form. "We're looking to media like madforsailing to put out the call for someone to come in and take over the Challenge. We have quite a bit of equipment, we've got the people, we're a pretty viable concern right now. But in two weeks' time it won't be, people will be looking for new challenges and the project will have lost its momentum if we don't find something soon. But OneWorld pulled it off, so maybe we can too."

Bourke said the news had been greeted with a good deal of disappointment in the German media. illbruck's runaway success in the Volvo Ocean Race has really put grand prix racing on the sporting map for the first time in Germany, and despite the distinct lack of homegrown talent on board the winning Volvo Ocean 60, John Kostecki and his cosmopolitan crew have become the darlings of the German public. The prospect of Germany competing in the America's Cup for the first time in its 151-year history had also fired the public's imagination but not, it seems, that of corporate Germany.

Kostecki's heroics on the high seas have created the perfect sales pitch for pulling in the corporate bucks, but if illbruck can't find the cash now, when can they? Bourke said it was not clear whether they would be back for an AC campaign in 2006, but if illbruck do not compete in Auckland this time around then a good deal of the momentum will have been lost.

Meanwhile, Kostecki and his crew continue to battle it out at the front of a very tightly bunched Volvo fleet off the coast of Brazil, but it could be that you are reading about the demise of illbruck Challenge even before the crew know it. "John [Kostecki] has been told," said Bourke, "but whether he has told the rest of the crew is up to John. I would prefer they got on with winning this leg before they worried about what's been going on here. I'll be giving them a full briefing of the situation when they arrive in Miami."

But whether they knew or not, Bourke denied it would have any effect on their performance in the Volvo Ocean Race. "These guys want to win this race, they'd kill to win it. They're so close they can almost smell it already." But if Bourke fails in his last-ditch bid to "pull a rabbit out of the hat", then Kostecki and the crew will be sure to be hitting the phone in Miami - making plans for life after Volvo. Who knows, with the rate that Larry Ellison has been getting through his Oracle Racing afterguard - what with Paul Cayard and Chris Dickson on gardening leave - it could be a case of last man standing for Kostecki.

Whether the Kiwis will find a way back into Team New Zealand seems less likely as they are a tightly knit squad, whilst other formidable talents like Canadian Richard Clarke will have to find work elsewhere. Not that he or anyone involved in the illbruck Challenge should find that too tough. Just as any America's Cup challenge of recent times has been desperate to tap into Team New Zealand - whether in terms of personnel, equipment or design blueprints - illbruck has laid down a new marker for all other offshore challenges to aspire to. Kostecki and Co will be some of the hottest unemployed property in the sailing world after they get to Kiel this June. Unless, of course, Glenn Bourke has conjured up that elusive white rabbit.

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