John Kostecki Ericsson
In one fell swoop, Ericsson announced a campaign for the 2008-’09 Volvo Ocean Race and moved itself into position as the early odds-on favorite. As only the second team to confirm its entry in the round-the-world classic-Peter de Ridder’s Mean Machine effort was the first-being the favorite at this stage isn’t very significant. However it’s unlikely that any other team will push Ericsson from the pole position anytime soon. With John Kostecki set to skipper the boat and Juan Kouyoumdjian signed on to design it, Ericsson has locked up the winning skipper from 2002 and the winning designer from the race than finished in July. Getting started now will mean the team should avoid the time constraints that plagued everyone but eventually champ ABN AMRO during the last race.Having left his full-time gig with the BMW Oracle America’s Cup campaign in the summer of 2005, and with Michael Illbruck pulling the plug on his TP 52 campaign after one summer on the MedCup circuit, the move couldn’t have been better timed for 42-year-old Kostecki, who sailed with Ericsson in the previous race as the team’s buoy-racing tactician and skipper for Leg 5 from Rio de Janeiro to Baltimore, Md.We connected with Kostecki, a Soling silver medalist from 1988 and a member of the Sailing World Hall of Fame, by phone from California where he was getting ready to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family.You’re getting started early this time. Was this assignment something you were actively pursuing as soon as the last race ended?I was always in contact with Ericsson, even before the last race ended. It’s more my style to get involved from an early stage. It’s a great opportunity for me to be in this position with an early start and a fully funded campaign.Is this return to the Volvo a sign that you’ve now found your niche in the sport?I don’t know about that. The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the premier events in our sport. It’s also incredibly fun sailing, especially the new 70s, as long as they hold together. I don’t know if this is my niche or not, but it’s going to be my life for the next two or three years.This campaign could knock you out of the next two Cups, since there seems a strong possibility the winner next summer won’t wait the customary 3 or 4 years between Cups. Do you still have the desire to do more America’s Cup sailing?That would be disappointing if I couldn’t do the America’s Cup. It’s not the end of the world. The last campaign that I was involved with didn’t really work out well for me. This was a great opportunity to get involved with Ericsson at an early stage and I didn’t want to miss that opportunity.So the Cup is still on your radar?I love the America’s Cup. It is also one of the premiere events in our sport and it’s one that I haven’t been fortunate enough to win. How involved were you with signing up Juan K?Very involved. The Ericsson management, they definitely didn’t want to sign up a designer without working with the skipper on it first. So I was very involved with getting Juan involved.A few years ago Juan seemed like a bit of a maverick in the world of yacht design. People weren’t quite sure he’d ever succeed. That’s obviously changed quite a bit now.Well I think the last Volvo Race kind of showed that he’s one of the best designers in the world.What kind of advantage can you draw from his time with ABN AMRO? His second boat was clearly faster than the others in the last race. It was obviously a good boat and conceptually a little bit different than the other boats. We’re hoping we can continue on having an advantage with the design. Juan’s been very proactive in thinking about the next Volvo Ocean Race and we’re hoping to have an advantage in yacht design with him on our team.With the way they’re reconfiguring the course can you evolve the design of ABN AMRO’s second boat, or will you have to start from scratch?For sure we’ll evolve. The race is a bit different than it has been in the past, but it would be nice to take the strengths out of the ABN program and evolve from that and adapt to the new weather we’ll be getting on this race. For sure it’ll be an evolution of the ABN boats.How important is it that he’s working only for your team in the next race?The most important thing for us is that to have him very involved with the team, and that’s one of the few reasons why we got Juan on board. He really wanted to work with one team, then he could get the most out of the design and not only be involved with the design, but some of the other aspects of the campaign.Any decisions as far as crew is concerned?No decisions yet. We’re currently putting together our design and technical team because we need to start moving forward in that direction straight away. In the meantime I’m speaking with potential crew. We would like to start getting people on board as soon as possible so they can also have input on the design of the boat.Ray Davies says he learned a lot from you and will base his crew selection process in part on what you did with illbruck prior to the 2001-’02 Volvo Ocean Race. Does this mean you’ll be pursuing the same people?Absolutely. We’re already competing for crew and design people. The competition has already begun.What do you think of the decision to remove at least some of the Southern Ocean sailing from the route?At the moment it looks like we will have a Southern Ocean component. So I think that’s good. I think it was a wise decision to change the route around a little bit. I think it’s going to be particularly interesting going to Eastern Europe, Asia, and it’s kind of a step forward for our sport. I’m really looking forward to showing our sport to some people in parts of this world that don’t really know too much about the Volvo Ocean Race or sailing.In the last race, yacht design and durability played huge roles. Will that be the same in 2008?For sure, the rule hasn’t changed very much so everything will get a little more refined and I think the boats will be closer in speed and I think there was a high learning curve as far as the construction and systems in the boats. So hopefully we’ll have a whole lot less breakdowns.The illbruck TP 52 campaign has been shut down. Are you pursuing some other options in that class for next summer?Absolutely. That’s a great circuit in the Med and I really enjoyed racing this year and I’m currently looking at my options at participating this coming year. I think it’s important to stay sharp and that’s probably one of the best professional racing circuits around these days and I’d really like to be involved.Can you compare the TP 52 circuit to the IOR 50-foot circuit of the late ’80s. Will the TPs last a little longer?Not necessarily. There are actually a lot of similarities, except time has evolved and the boats are a lot different. These boats are very exciting to sail and pretty darn high performance. But I’m a little worried about the TP 52 circuit and I think the class needs to take some certain steps to make sure it stays around in the future.What would you do to ensure its longevity?Personally I’m concerned with some of the spending within the class because there aren’t any limitations on sails and whatnot. It’s basically an open book and I think that, in the past, has killed some classes. Hopefully the Transpac 52 class can foresee some of these issues for the future and control them.It seems like there’s a lot of corporate involvement, a lot of sponsored teams. That has to be encouraging for a professional sailor. Or is that deceiving?It’s not deceiving at all. There are a lot of corporate sponsors, mainly Spanish, but there are other European sponsors active in that class. I think it’s great stepping stone to other events, maybe the America’s Cup or the Volvo Ocean Race. It’s definitely the leading edge of our sport as far as the sponsorship is concerned.What about the Star? Do you have interest in doing some Olympic sailing?A lot of interest. Not necessarily a lot of time for it unfortunately. I hope to do some sailing in the next few years before the Volvo stuff gets too busy. I think it’ll be more or less just doing a few regattas and keeping my hand in it. It’s not necessarily going to be a full-on campaign to try to go to the Olympics or anything like that.Will we see you at the Trials next October in Marina del Rey?It’s probably too much of a commitment, but for sure I would like to be there.Going back to the Volvo, does having won the race once before change your approach or the amount of pressure you feel?Basically I approach everything more or less the same way whether I’ve won it in the past or not. We’re doing this to win, so we’re going to be all out.Does this race favor the jack-of-all-trades offshore sailors or the really skilled helmsman and trimmers that can push the boat to the edge?It’s a combination of both. You have to be a great all-around sailor to sail on these boats. It’s very limited people on deck most of the time so you have to be a jack of all trades, but also a specialist in certain areas. It takes a unique person to be a crewmember on one of these boats.What about the physical demands of these boats? How much time do you need in the gym?Physically, it’s incredible how much more demanding they are than the 60s. I’m really looking forward to that side of it. I think that’s part of the challenge and I’m looking forward to getting into better shape and hopefully that will keep me younger minded as well.Any concern about the size of the fleet?For sure there’s concern. Obviously we’re trying to get as many teams involved as possible. It’s a shorter window, so we’re trying to do anything we can do to help out that situation.One advantage you have is the Ericsson boat, a ready-made testing platform. What sort of sailing do you have planned in that boat?We’ve been doing quite a bit of promotional stuff since the last race and I know that will continue on through next year. In the meantime we’re trying to finalize our plans on how we’re going to set up a schedule that will allow us to be more prepared for the start of the race. We don’t really have any answers right now how we’re going to use that boat.I imagine doing sail research will be a big part of the time you spend with the old boat?That’s high on our priority list, amongst other things. In the past having a great sail program has been key to success in the Volvo Ocean Race.