Ainslie bemoans lack of upwind speed
Sir Ben Ainslie has admitted that his Land Rover BAR team are in a battle to avoid being the first team eliminated from the 35th America's Cup after suffering a crushing loss to Groupama Team France yesterday, their fourth heavy defeat in as many races.
In about 48 hours, the British team have gone from looking like a contender to an also-ran, but Ainslie said they could turn things around. BAR looked short on speed on the upwind legs, while mistakes came at inopportune moments against France, who won by 53 seconds.
“We didn't sail the best race and they deserved the win,” Ainslie said. “Clearly we are not fast enough upwind and that is something we have got to improve.
“It was obviously a critical race looking at elimination process. We did a lot of research on their starting techniques and were in a strong position. For it to fall apart from there is very disappointing.
“The whole team is fighting hard. We've had a few setbacks in the past week, but the team is recovering from them. That's the nature of sport.”
At the end of the first round-robin series of the Qualifiers, only the two-point bonus that BAR received for winning the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series is keeping the team off the bottom of the table. Crucially, perhaps, the tiebreaker for teams on the same points is finishing position in the World Series, so France, Artemis Racing and SoftBank Team Japan — who are all on two points, one behind BAR — must all two of their remaining five matches in the second round-robin series for BAR to be going home before the play-offs begin on Sunday.
The team's downturn in fortunes has coincided with the damage the boat suffered in a startline collision with Team Japan on Saturday, but Ainslie insisted that the overnight repair on the boat had not had a negative effect on its handling.
“There haven't been any changes to the boat since [the crash],” he said. “It hasn't changed the handling in any way. Clearly, there are some areas where we need to improve performance.”
Losses on Sunday to Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand, possibly the strongest two teams here, were explainable, but defeat by France was a hammer blow.
After a good start, France sailed past BAR at the third mark and BAR's hopes of fighting back were dealt a terminal blow when a poor tack resulting in them crashing down off their foils. “They had this slightly higher mode upwind, which meant that they could do fewer tacks, which means less energy usage for their team,” Ainslie said.
“The guys did a great job to keep up and recover from the windward mark to keep us in the race; it just fell apart with the first tack upwind.
“It took us the rest of the race to get the oil reserves back up and we lost a lot of time getting the daggerboard down. The race was over, really, from there.”
As well as looking for improvements on the boat, Ainslie admitted that communication on board between him and Giles Scott, the tactician, needed to be better.
“We can do a better job with our communication,” he said. “The hard thing again is physicality with someone like Giles in the tactical role — there are times when he is just fully locked into grinding; that's the set-up of our boat.
“At this stage, if we wanted to make changes there, we couldn't make them quickly enough. So we have to live with that. Between he and I, we've got to work out how we take over the responsibility throughout the race on some of these key decisions. We've got a great relationship. I'm confident we can do that.”
He added that there were still improvements that could be made to improve boat speed.
“There are still a few small things we are looking at that will make a difference; in particular the speed in the light winds,” he said.
“We think we can make some gains there, and the handling in the breezes is an area we are looking at to try and get the speed with the controllability. That's the secret to success in this game.”