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Ainslie fighting to prove BAR belong

Sir Ben Ainslie led Land Rover BAR to a narrow World Series win in Oman today (Photograph courtesy of Lloyd Images)

Land Rover BAR became the first team to win multiple Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series titles in Oman yesterday.

The British challenger went into the final three races with the points doubled clinging to a four-point advantage over Oracle Team USA, the America’s Cup defender, on the leaderboard and did just enough to clinch their second win of the series.

But it almost never happened as Sir Ben Ainslie and fellow crew had to make up considerable ground in all three races and then rely on others to seal the deal.

“We kept fighting through today,” Ainslie said. “Some of the established teams have a track record and for us, we need to prove that we can compete at the top of this America’s Cup fleet. I think that we are doing that.”

A key factor in the team’s narrow victory was the use of their genneker or “code zero” headsail at crucial junctures throughout the races.

“It was a big decision all weekend when to use that sail,” Ainslie said. “Our coaching team of Rob Wilson and Luc du Bois did a really good job of helping us to understand those different modes and the right time to deploy the code zero sail.”

The regatta went down to the wire in yesterday’s light wind with Oracle, Team New Zealand and Land Rover BAR all in contention heading into the sixth and final race.

Land Rover BAR got off to a poor start, incurring a penalty for going over the line early along with Team New Zealand and Artemis Racing, but did well to work their way back up the fleet into third.

However, their fate remained out of their own hands, with their delicate victory hopes hinging on who would cross the line first between Oracle and Groupama Team France up ahead of them, after Team New Zealand and Artemis Racing both fell out of contention through unforced errors.

The Kiwis lost precious ground after being hit with a penalty for going out of bounds, while Artemis fell off the pace after their “code zero” got snared by the weather mark, which resulted in Luke Parkinson, the wing trimmer, falling overboard.

Oracle appeared to be on course for their first World Series title.

However, they were passed by Team France, with seasoned King Edward VII Gold Cup campaigner Adam Minoprio at the helm, at the top mark at the end of the last beat.

Oracle pushed as hard as they could on the final run to the finish but the French did not budge, covering the defender the rest of the way to claim their maiden race victory of the World Series. The result left BAR two points clear of Oracle.

“It’s good to be on the podium. We’re one of only two teams to have been on the podium at each event,” Jimmy Spithill, the Oracle skipper, said. “But we want to win. There’s no two ways about it.”

Rounding off the podium were Team New Zealand who still top the overall World Series leaderboard by six-points over Oracle, with BAR a point adrift in third.

“To come away from any event still holding the overall lead is a good thing,” Glenn Ashby, the Team New Zealand skipper, said. “At the end of the day that’s what counts.”

The World Series resumes in New York on May 7 and 8.

Oman results

BAR 8, 10, 10, 18, 14, 16 — 76pts

Oracle 9, 6, 9, 12, 20, 18 — 74

New Zealand 10, 7, 5, 20, 16, 12 — 70

Team France 5, 8, 7, 10, 18, 20 — 68

Team Japan 6, 9, 6, 16, 10, 14 — 61

Artemis 7, 5, 8, 14, 12, 10 — 56

Overall standings: 1 Emirates Team New Zealand 192pts; 2 Oracle Team USA 186; 3 Land Rover BAR 185; 4 SoftBank Team Japan 161; 5 Artemis Racing 161; 6 Groupama Team France 150.