Team Profile: Ben Ainslie Racing

The home team for the Portsmouth World Series, BAR gives their thoughts on the series and their competitors.

16th July 2015. Solent, UK. America's Cup World Series Portsmouth. Pre event training day.Ian Roman

“As a sailing team, we’re ready to go. It’s almost a case of I wish it started tomorrow, because we are kind of chomping at the bit!”

“It really is the ultimate line-up of sailors and there’s just no way you’re not going to be taking it to the limit”

“Do I think we can win it? Yes, we can. But I think all the other six teams can as well.”

For every one of the six international teams competing in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Portsmouth from July 23-26 the first event in the 35th America’s Cup cycle is highly anticipated. But the home team, who’ll be flying the Union Jack at the first America’s Cup racing to be held in British waters since 1851, admit that they are ‘amazingly excited’.

David ‘Freddie’ Carr, who’ll be sailing on the bow of Land Rover BAR, said: “It’s unbelievable. A few of us have been doing America’s Cups for a while now, but effectively have been a little bit mercenary sailing for foreign countries. To collect all our talent pool of British sailors, British designers and shore crew together, to have a really strong challenge under the Union Jack is something that we’re all super excited about.

“And then to have the first event here in Portsmouth and see how not only the sailing fans are getting behind it, but the wider British sporting enthusiast is getting into it. We’re just amazingly excited about it.”

For people in Portsmouth, the Land Rover BAR sailors have become the familiar faces of the America’s Cup World Series. “There’s a buzz about the event for sure. We’re in our new base in Old Portsmouth now and we’re out and about, running on the seafront, and people come up and talk to us about it. They start conversations with us about the sailing, which I’ve never had before in my life apart from in Auckland, and it’s happening in Portsmouth. People are understanding the sailing, they’re understanding the event that’s coming here. They are grasping the magnitude of it, and how big it could be for the city in years to come.”

Will a huge home crowd mean added pressure to perform for the Land Rover BAR crew? “I wouldn’t say I feel added pressure,” says Carr. “I would if I didn’t think we were ready. But our sailing team manager Jono Macbeth and our coach Rob Wilson have done a really good job of structuring the last two months, and I think as a squad, as a sailing team, we’re ready to go. It’s almost a case of I wish it started tomorrow, because we are kind of chomping at the bit!”

The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Portsmouth racecourse is within sight of the Land Rover BAR base (although as it lies in a shipping lane, even the home team aren’t allowed to train on the competition waters until the event begins on Thursday, July 23). How do they feel about the sailing area?

“It does exactly what we want the America’s Cup to do right now,” comments Carr. “It brings these amazing boats that sail round at 45-50mph and puts them 100m off the beach, so people get to enjoy it.

“It’ll be interesting to see what we get, it’s Britain in the summer! We could have apumping sea breeze with a bit of chop, which makes the boats quite hard to sail, or we could see a very light gradient, and we might be seeing the Code Zeros get out. But one thing’s for sure, we’re going to be racing on a very tight racecourse, which is restricted by boundaries. We’ll be turning lots of corners, and the umpires will be involved. It is a good course, but it’s a small racecourse, and there’s going to be plenty of incident and accident!”

The Land Rover BAR team have trained with their foiling 45 catamaran on the Solent, but this will be the first time they have raced in a fleet of the high-speed boats. Freddie Carr admits it represents a big change: “Our top speeds on the reach, in the non-foiling 45s are kind of 22-25 knots, and we’ve seen our World Series boat get up to speeds north of 35 knots, so it’s massive step on.

“Fundamentally it’s just the same game, but just a lot quicker! Your speed of thought has to step on to the next level, and that’s quite tricky to do, because the boats are so hard to sail that on one hand you’re in the red in terms of the physicality, but on the other hand everything’s coming at you a lot quicker and you have to be very specific with the way you sail the boats. So you’re absolutely hanging physically, but your brain has to be in this Zen kind of mode to get the boat around the course cleanly. That’s where the challenge lies.”

Despite the leap in performance, Carr says there will be no holding back for the first races. “As soon as the five-minute gun goes for the first race on Saturday, it’s going to be all-on. You just look at the people who are holding the tillers across the fleet and it is the Who’s Who of sailing from the last three or four America’s Cup cycles, and Olympics and Round the Worlds. It really is the ultimate line-up of sailors and there’s just no way you’re not going to be taking it to the limit on Race 1.”

Visiting challengers

So who do Land Rover BAR think will perform best at the first World Series? Carr considers the form:

“Let’s start with the Defender, Oracle Team USA. The way that Jimmy [Spithill] and those guys sail is kind of aggressive. I guess they try and boss the fleet a little bit and they’re always quick. They’ve always got good boat handling, they’re always sailing at the front of the fleet and there’s no doubt those boys will be on the pace straight away.

“And then we kind of have the 49er, skiff lads with Team New Zealand and Artemis. Those guys have been dominating high performance dinghy sailing for the last eight years between the two of them, and this is their bread and butter. Whereas a few of us have had to learn these foiling skills and this dynamic way of sailing, those boys have grown up with it in their blood, and you just know they’ll be super quick out of the blocks.

“On the Japanese boat you have Dean Barker, a veteran campaigner, with Chris Draper, who’s one of the best Moth sailors in the world, and those were the two guys that effectively squared off against each other in the last Louis Vuitton finals, so there’s a mountain of knowledge on there.

“I guess the French have kind of been sailing together the longest. That group of French sailors have been racing on the Extreme 40s and offshore for 10 years, and these boats really do come down to knowing what the person next to you is doing. So I think their crew work and the way they handle the boat around the course will be impressive off the bat.

“I can honestly say hand on heart, of the six boats going into this first regatta, that I couldn’t pick a winner right now. Everyone’s got their strengths, and it will be very interesting to see how it plays out.”

Can Land Rover BAR be that winner? “I’m always a bit wary in terms of saying what I think we’ll do. Obviously we’d like to win it. Do I think we can win it? Yes, we can. But I think all the other five teams can as well.

“We’re ready to go racing, that’s for sure. We’re ready to do battle with these guys. But they’re ready to come and battle as well.”