Ben Ainslie kicks off his bid to bring the America’s Cup to Britain for the first time when he sets off in pursuit of honours at the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series (ACWS).
Ainslie, the five-time Olympic medallist who was once described as Britain’s greatest sailor since Lord Horatio Nelson, won the Cup for America in 2013 as part of Oracle Team USA.
A few months later he announced his own British campaign for the 2017 Cup to be held in Bermuda.
In the past two years, Ainslie has raised most of the £100 million (141 million euros; $155 million) budget required to challenge for the Cup, built a state of the art headquarters in Portsmouth and recruited an 80-strong team to help him achieve his childhood dream.
His Landrover BAR team has been training on their high performance catamaran in the Solent off Portsmouth, where the America’s Cup was first contested in 1851, since the start of 2015 and are now favourites to win the first ACWS event of the year.
But against a line-up of the best sailors in the world including defenders Oracle Team USA who pulled off one of sport’s greatest comebacks in 2013 when they beat Emirates Team New Zealand after being 8-1 down in the finals, plus three other teams from Japan, France and Sweden, Ainslie is not expecting an easy ride.
“The other skippers are putting the pressure on us by calling us favourites but that is inevitable,” said the 37-year-old.
“It is great for us to be racing in front of a home crowd but with that comes a lot of expectation so we just have to deal with that and get on with the racing. Our preparations have been really good but we are all new to these boats and still learning how to race them.”
The weather forecast for racing at the weekend is for a fresh breeze which could make things “tricky”, added Ainslie.
“We have had a few wipe outs already and believe me they are not much fun. The trick is to find the balance between pushing hard and not going over that line and losing control.”
Up to 500,000 people are expected in Portsmouth over the weekend to watch the racing and the event has attracted extensive television coverage around the world, reflecting the surge in interest in the sportsince the dramatic action in San Francisco.
Portsmouth is the first ACWS event of 2015 with two more opportunities in Gothenburg and Bermuda for teams to earn points towards the Challenger finals in 2017.
Defenders Oracle Team USA, funded by the world’s fifth richest man Larry Ellison, have set their sights on making an early mark by drawing first blood in Portsmouth.
“We want to win -– the last event we did was the Americas Cup and we won there so it is up to other people to knock us off but we will not be giving up easily,” said Oracle team USA tactician Tom Slingsby. – Agence France-Presse