EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – America’s Cup, the “Ben Ainslie thought”

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From Sydney in 2000 to London in 2012 via Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. Four gold medals in as many Olympics allowed Charles Benedict Ainslie for all “Ben” to earn a front row seat in Olympic sailing history
and especially in the British one, to the point of earning the title of “Sir” bestowed on him in January 2013. Four with the one in 2017 are Ben Ainslie’s participations in the America’s Cup.

After his experiences with One World Challenge (2003) and later with Team New Zealand, followed by a victorious one with Oracle Team Racing, it is now time for Ben Ainslie to attempt an assault on the Old Jug with a team of his own-the Land Rover BAR. The determination with which he wants to bring the Cup home is evidenced by his recent victory in the waters of Oman that officially kicked off the 2016 Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series season and saw the British team compete on equal terms with Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand. We caught up with Ainslie on the sidelines of the event where he granted us this interview.

Ben-Ainslie-Charges-To-The-Top-In-OmanOUR INTERVIEW WITH BEN AINSLIE
To date, what is the snapshot you can give us of the level of readiness of the challenge you lead? What has been and what is still to be done?
We started two years ago from scratch. In this time frame we had to work simultaneously on several fronts: from putting together a team to finding resources and to fund the challenge. The most complicated part was to raise the 80 million pounds the amount we budgeted to carry out the campaign.

From a technical point of view, what were the most critical aspects to be solved?
Even in this respect compared to other teams, we did not have a wealth of useful information gained from previous participation. Starting from scratch here, too, it was necessary to create a working team by harmonizing the specific skills of individuals. Creating a team spirit in this area is by no means easy especially when dealing with design and technical aspects.

How did you guys do it?
The arrival of Martin Whitmarsh, in the role of Ceo, ten months ago was instrumental in accelerating the process of integrating all these competencies. Whitmarsh’s long experience as managing director of the McLaren team in Formula One will provide invaluable input to the challenge especially in organizational and operational terms. Not to mention the contribution of Andy Claughton who coordinates all the technical side.

In terms of experience to put to use, how important was it for you to participate in the last America’s Cup?
This is my fourth participation in the America’s Cup. In particular, the last two, those with Team New Zealand (Valencia 2007) and Oracle Team Racing (2013), approached their respective campaigns following two different paths in terms of both design approach and crew preparation. For me, they were instrumental in creating the wealth of experience that came in very handy today.

In this regard, how crucial will the human and technical factors be in this edition of the America’s Cup?
I would say they will both affect 50 percent. In the past edition in light of the entry on the scene of foils never before experienced in this competition made the component take the lion’s share relegating crew performance to a marginal role. This is no longer the case today. The experience and especially the knowledge gained over the years in foils has made it possible to bring the focus back to the human factor, which in my opinion will be as crucial as the technical aspect.

In your opinion, will the performance gain?
Certainly. It was immediately apparent in San Francisco that the most prepared teams were the New Zealand team and the Defender. This is no longer the case today. The technical gap has been largely closed, and teams will appear at the start much more competitive. It will be harder for everyone.

Speaking of performance what do you expect from the Bermuda race course?
Highly variable wind conditions. In some cases we will have situations similar to those just seen in Oman with prevailing light winds. But there will also be room for more challenging conditions with sustained winds. However, the race course will be within a protected bay that will still allow for little wave situation that will enhance the performance of the catamarans.

If you had to choose which one would you prefer to meet?
I have a beautiful memory of San Francisco Bay. A true paradise for sailing enthusiasts who could always count on ideal conditions with flat seas and few waves and plenty of wind. In addition, the race course was inside a natural amphitheater, and the audience could enjoy a unique spectacle. But one has to look, and Bermuda also promises to be a unique venue. The efforts put forth by the organizers are, in this regard, truly outstanding. In the regattas held in October last year, I was able to see the beauty of those waters, which lend themselves greatly from a TV perspective.

The claim of your challenge reads Bring the Cup Home. What does it mean to you?
The America’s Cup, which at the time was called the Hundred Guineas Cup, was born in English waters in 1851, and it is our intention, after more than a century and a half, to bring it back to where it all began.

Maybe you will change its name by christening it the 100 Guineas Cup?
Who knows. Perhaps. But first it must be won.

Matthew Zaccagnino

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