Sir Ben Ainslie ready to grip and rip at SailGP
Sir Ben Ainslie is excited and keen on getting back to grips with the supercharged F50.
Britain’s most decorated sailor is fresh off competing at the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, on board challenger Ineos Team UK’s AC75 foiling monohull.
He last competed in the 50-foot wing-sailed foiling catamaran with British challenger Land Rover BAR at the 35th America’s Cup, which Bermuda hosted in 2017.
The multiple Olympic gold medal- winner and world champion hopes it will be a smooth transition returning to the helm of the F50 for SailGP’s season two opening Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess scheduled for April 24 and 25.
“It’s a slightly different dynamic with two hulls, two rudders and a wing sail,” Ainslie, the Britain SailGP helmsman and chief executive, told The Royal Gazette. “Also, we will be mostly fleet racing rather than match racing which we saw in the Cup.
“Hopefully it won’t take too long to get back to grips with the F50 and get ripping.”
Dubbed as the fastest sail race boat in the world, the F50 is the first to hit 50 knots during racing and was crowned World Sailing’s 2019 Boat of the Year.
Coincidentally, it was Ainslie’s team who achieved the historic feat of breaking the sport’s 50-knot speed barrier during training ahead of the Cowes SailGP event, which they hosted in August 2019.
The team’s F50 was clocked travelling at a record speed of 50.22 knots (58mph or 93km/h).
The high-performance boat was upgraded and rebranded as the F50 after the 35th America’s Cup.
They now have two grinders instead of four, a designated flight controller and have been modified to one-design specifications.
“I think they [modifications] are very sensible,” added Ainslie, who also won the 34th America’s Cup with defender Oracle Team USA. “The idea is to improve the range of being able to race the boats effectively and to make the boats more practical to operate.”
Ainslie’s team had yet to practise in the upgraded F50 since arriving on the island when operations at SailGP’s racing facility on Cross Island was suspended this week in compliance with the Bermuda Government’s latest Covid-19 restrictions.
The British racing syndicate burst on to the scene with victory on their SailGP debut at the original season two opener in Sydney, Australia, in February 2020.
However, their joy was short-lived as their title was voided after the season was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ainslie and his team-mates are now hoping to recapture the magic should the delayed start of the second instalment of SailGP commence as planned at this month’s Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess.
“We have competed only once in SailGP and that went well,” Ainslie said. “That said, the competition will be extremely tough, perhaps the toughest ever.”
The inaugural event will be held on the Great Sound and will be broadcast live in the United States and Canada on CBS Sports and in Britain on Sky Sports, with added exposure in more than 150 countries.
Ainslie is thrilled to be back on the island where he has previously enjoyed considerable success having won the ISAF Youth Worlds in 1995 and the King Edward VII Gold Cup back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
“I have many fond memories of Bermuda from the Youth World Championships in 1995, many Bermuda Gold Cup experiences and then the America's Cup in 2017,” the 44-year-old said. “It’s a fantastic venue for these F50 boats and SailGP.”
SailGP was founded by Sir Russell Coutts, the multiple King Edward VII Gold Cup and America’s Cup champion, and American business magnate Larry Ellison after Oracle’s loss to Team New Zealand.
Each grand-prix event includes two competition days, featuring five fleet races leading to a final match race between the two leaders.
Points are accumulated at each event throughout the season, culminating in a $1 million winner-takes-all championship race at the Grand Final.
Denmark, France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Spain are the remaining seven national teams competing in the global championship.
Australia, helmed by multiple world champion, Olympic gold medal-winner and America’s Cup winner Tom Slingsby, are the defending champions.