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Ainslie raises BAR hopes

Following the close of the last practice session, Land Rover BAR stood at 50 per cent for the week, winning one and losing one, Oracle Team USA were also at 50 per cent but made eight races, winning four.

Emirates Team New Zealand started three races and won two. SoftBank Team Japan had four wins but seven loses for 36 per cent and Groupama Team France have won one and lost five. Team New Zealand did not start in one of Team France's races. Artemis Racing lead the win column with eight wins and two losses.

The unexpected and disappointing performance for spectators in Bermuda and the European audience has been from BAR. They are a new team in the America's Cup but their leader, Sir Ben Ainslie, is not a rookie. He has all the top credentials not only from the 34th America's Cup in San Francisco but also from Olympic competition with four golds and a silver to his name.

So do not bury BAR yet. They came into this America's Cup a year behind experienced arch-rivals Oracle, Team New Zealand and Artemis. They are ahead of Team Japan and Team France, the other inexperienced competitors. BAR have not raced in as many practice races as either Artemis or Oracle, perhaps because they need time in the shed to install upgrades and test new on-board systems.

Keep your eyes on BAR and Sir Ben. Look for them on the last turn and the charge down the back stretch to the finish at the America's Cup Match.

In his column published yesterday in The Daily Telegraph, Ainslie presented the team view on where they stand in Bermuda.

“There has been a bit of negativity floating back across the Atlantic recently regarding our chances in the forthcoming Cup.” Ainslie wrote, “The bulk of that negativity stems from some of the practice racing that has been taking place out here and comments made by some rivals and so-called experts.”

“Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain [a well-known fan of Bermuda], I'm here to reassure you that reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.

“Everyone is pushing 24/7 to eke out any last bit of performance from their race boats. The good news, from our point of view, is that we feel we have more potential gains to realise than perhaps some of our rivals do. The truth is, as a new team, we were always going to come at this campaign with a late charge.

“Artemis, Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle Team USA and SoftBank Team Japan — by association with Oracle — effectively carried straight on from the last cycle,” Ainslie noted. “They have always been 12 months ahead of us and Team France simply because they already had their design teams set up and began their development cycle that bit before us.

“But that gap is shrinking fast as we get closer to the main event. Only this week we launched a new bespoke steering wheel in collaboration with technical partner Land Rover, which has made a real difference to the way I can control the boat. And we have other significant performance upgrades coming onto the boat in the next few weeks, which will have a real impact.”

The key question for BAR now is can they learn to sail the boat as well with all of these last-minute upgrades in foils and daggerboards and rudders, and also in terms of the set-up of the boat?

“Our ability to do that is what will determine our success in the forthcoming Cup,” Ainslie added. “I'm quietly confident.

“It is clear that some teams have taken a completely different approach to the practice racing. We have only competed in about half of them, treating them mainly as an opportunity to gauge where the other teams are at while we focused on upgrades and testing.”

Thinking ahead to the real racing that starts May 26, Ainslie pointed out that “The likes of Oracle, Artemis and Team Japan, meanwhile, have been much more full-on with it, treating it [practice racing] almost like the Cup itself in terms of putting out the race results and having a big media push around these races. If you didn't know better you'd think we were already in competition.

“It's part of the game but from our side we are keeping our heads down, focusing hard on what needs to be done …. To an extent, of course, it is a bit of a leap into the unknown. Although racing begins in just three weeks, on May 26, no one really knows for sure what to expect.”

Ainslie agrees that no team have all of their cards on the table yet.

“What is certain is that everyone still has a few more tricks up their sleeve,” he said. “Three weeks is a long time in this sport and we will quite literally be adding new components to the boat as we go through the racing. That in itself is a risk, of course. Will those upgrades work? Will we have time to adapt? But those are the risks you have to take. You have to try to push the envelope. The team that does that the most successfully will win. We still believe it can be us.”

In the thick of it: Ainslie and his BAR team-mates tackle Artemis on the Great Sound (Photograph by Talbot Wilson)

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Published May 06, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 05, 2017 at 11:39 pm)

Ainslie raises BAR hopes

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