As the America's Cup teams are seen practising in the Solent ahead of the America's Cup World Series in Portsmouth at the weekend, Sir Ben Ainslie gives his take on the legendary sailors aiming to beat him.
It’s time for the first contest in the 35th America’s Cup, and we are very excited about hosting the first America’s Cup World Series event in Portsmouth. It’s quite something to open our quest for this famous trophy in Britain. On top of that we’ll be sailing from our fantastic new headquarters on the Camber, and since broadcasters are taking the America's Cup seriously, there will be live UK TV coverage – so it’s hard to contain the team’s excitement.
We must stay level-headed, though, as the competition will be intense, starting with the defender, Oracle Team USA. These guys are two-time winners of the trophy and a fifth-generation team. They started up in 2000 and their first contest was the 31st America’s Cup in Auckland in 2003, where they reached the final of the Louis Vuitton Cup, before being defeated by eventual Cup winners Alinghi.
The current team are a very different line-up, but still hugely talented across the board. They have brought in younger sailing team members and it will be interesting to see how they fit into their core group around the skipper (and former team mate) Jimmy Spithill and tactician and sailing team manager Tom Slingsby. I know these guys well as I sailed with them when we won the 34th Cup. Tom and Jimmy are the two key talents leading the team and how that relationship works will be really important to them.
We’ve just seen SoftBank Team Japan announced and while we don’t know much about them, we do know it’s backed by Masayoshi Son and SoftBank, so there will be no shortage of funds, and skippered by Dean Barker. Japan also has a strong racing heritage, with teams in the America’s Cup reaching the Louis Vuitton semi-finals and Olympic medallists. The team’s general manager is Kazuhiko Sofuku, a veteran of four cup campaigns, so you expect them to be serious players.
Another team that can’t be underestimated is Team New Zealand, who I sailed with for the 32nd America’s Cup. They have a massively talented young squad coming through, led by Pete Burling, 2012 Olympics 49er silver medallist and current International Moth and 49er world champion. Then they have the huge experience of Glenn Ashby to complement Burling; Ashby has won eight consecutive A-Class Cat world championships. We expect them to be one of the toughest competitors.
We really respect the talented teams that we are up against, but are determined to keep our heads down and work harder to get the results on the water where it really counts
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Artemis Racing are another team stacked with high-performance dinghy specialists, led by Iain Percy, who’s hugely talented and now experienced in the cup game. The backing for that team is secure, and they are building on their first campaign, with the talent and resources to be very strong.
That leaves Team France, led by Franck Cammas, who has a huge amount of experience. He’s held the global circumnavigation record, won the Figaro and the Volvo Ocean Race, and the International C -Class Cat championship. The French are good in multihulls and we can expect them to be strong. But they are a commercial team and securing sponsorship will be key for them.
As for ourselves, we are a first-generation team and as such have had a fair amount of catching up to do both on and off the water. We really respect the talented teams that we are up against, but are determined to keep our heads down and work harder to get the results on the water where it really counts. The racing for this next America’s Cup and World Series will be closer than ever, so stay tuned.