All to play for as world series nears end
The America's Cup is in Asia for the first time in its 165-year history this weekend as the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series heads to Fukuoka, Japan.
Racing on home waters, SoftBank Team Japan are the talk of the town as media interest is exploding ahead of the final event of the two year series. The opening press conference yesterday, for example, was oversubscribed, with journalists spilling out into the hallway.
“I'm very excited to be here as already I feel like this is going to be a really big event,” said Kazuhiko Sofuku, the SoftBank general manager.
“You can tell just from the amount of attention we've had so far from the media in the lead up to the weekend. I know ticket sales have gone very well and I am looking forward to seeing everybody come down to see the event.”
The event is more than just a homecoming for SoftBank Team Japan, the first Japanese challengers for the cup in 15 years.
The Fukuoka racing also marks the culmination of two years of racing in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series. The series champion will be crowned following the final races tomorrow.
Land Rover BAR come into the event with the series lead — a 14 point advantage over Oracle Team USA. Emirates Team New Zealand are a further three points back. But with 90 points on offer over the six scheduled races this weekend, the leaderboard is still wide open.
“It is very close in terms of the overall points. We have a bit of a gap to the other two boats, but in reality we're going to have to sail really well this weekend if we want to end up on top in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series,” Sir Ben Ainslie, the Land Rover BAR skipper, said.
“We have to do the absolute best we can, that sounds obvious, but we just need to keep trying to be consistent. We've had some bad races but throughout this series we've proven that we're one of the best teams at coming back, so I think we're in a good place, whatever happens.”
For Jimmy Spithill, the Oracle Team USA skipper, a balance will need to be struck between trying to catch Ainslie and protecting his narrow lead over the Kiwis. But the irrepressible, two-time America's Cup winner, will not be looking over his shoulder.
“We never look at holding on to second place,” Spithill said. “We are here for the win and we'd love to take the two points. No question, it's Ben's to lose, but stranger things have happened. We'll be giving everything we can to try and take him on.”
There is more at stake than just bragging rights. The overall series winner picks up two bonus points for the next stage of the event, the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers which begin on the Great Sound in Bermuda starting in May 2017. The second place team earns one bonus point.
“This is the last official racing any of us will do before we're into the qualifiers in Bermuda next summer,” Spithill said. “We all want to lay down a marker for next year. I think it's going to be close and we're looking forward to the challenge.”