Local billionaire to fund Swiss America's Cup challenge

Ernesto Bertarelli (left) and the former Team New Zealand skipper, Russell Coutts, hope to bring the America's Cup trophy to Europe for the first time. Keystone / Fabrtice Coffrini

The Swiss billionaire, Ernesto Bertarelli, has decided to fund Switzerland's entry into the 2003 America's Cup. New Zealander skipper, Russell Coutts, will captain the Swiss sailboat in a bid to bring the trophy to Europe for the first time.

This content was published on September 7, 2000 - 08:14

Bertarelli, chief executive officer of the biotechnology company, Serono, told a news conference he was underwriting the budget to the tune of SFr95 million ($53 million).

The 34-year-old Bertarelli - known as the "Baby Billionaire" - and double America's Cup winner Coutts, said they had built up half of a 55-member syndicate for the Auckland competition.

The team will train on the double-keel sailboat "Be Happy" which took part in the last America's Cup under a Swiss flag, until their two new craft are ready in 2002.

Bertarelli, a keen sailor, won Geneva's Bol d'Or regatta in June aboard his catamaran Alingi. He also won the race in 1997.

The 38-year-old Coutts was cagey about whether Bertarelli would get a place in the Swiss team, saying: "He could have a sailing role on board in the form of navigator or other roles. He would be more than capable."

Coutts, who won the prestigious event for New Zealand five years ago, caused a furore at home when he defected to the Swiss team last May along with several key members of the team who had successfully defended the cup in March.

Other defectors include Brad Butterworth, winning tactician for Team New Zealand in 1995 and 2000, and mainsail trimmer, Warwick Fleury.

The team plan to train in the Mediterranean next summer. Bertarelli said he was open to races against Prada, the losing challenger this year whose homeport is Punta Ala, Italy.

At least 12 challengers are expected to enter for the competition by the closing date of March 2001.

swissinfo with agencies

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