Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing, who will be competing this season in the 52 Super Series, are stepping up their TP52 preparation and training programme as they seek to take full advantage of their proven, successful boat and aim to steal an early-season march on the nine teams that will be launching brand new boats this season.
But while the Land Rover BAR team’s alliance with Tony Langley’s Gladiator team means that Ainslie and crew will be equipped with the late 2016 launched Botín Partners design, which highlighted its potential by finishing second, tied on points with Azzurra, at 2017’s last regatta in Menorca, their challenge is much more about catching up on the finer points of crew work that are so critical in this white-hot grand prix fleet.
Unfortunately, the team have just missed a training period due to bad weather in the UK, but, as Ainslie explains, the foundations of their pre-season prep will be warm-weather racing and training at San Diego Yacht club on Langley’s US-based TP52, one of three that the British businessman owns and campaigns.
“The 52 Super Series is a great opportunity to have our core sailing team active on the water, doing some hard racing this year. With no Cup racing this year of any kind, the 52 Super Series is the most competitive racing there is. It is not foiling, but it is a key chance to have the team out there building the relationships in the core sailing team and performing at the highest level,” explains Ainslie.
“We are very grateful to Tony for this opportunity. At the moment we are looking hard at the America’s Cup budget, and this represents a saving we are grateful for and so we are focusing on making the very best of it.”
He adds: “Tony is great. He can be outspoken as a character, and I like that, he says what he thinks and I like that. He is good fun and we are fortunate to share his passion and how he is supporting British sailing.”
Land Rover BAR will bring in some of their same core sailing team as competed in Bermuda at the 35th America’s Cup, rotating sailors in and out as necessary, mixing with Gladiator regulars like main trimmer Andrew Estcourt and trimmer Jono Swain, who will be paired with Joey Newton. Joe Spooner is named as grinder. Tom Wilson will do pit and run the boat.
While Langley will steer with Ainslie as tactician, Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott supports Ben as strategist, Andy McLean will be navigator, Matt Cornwell is on the bow, and the vastly experienced three-times Cup winner, Jono McBeth will play a key role.
“The Gladiator team has been competing on the 52 circuit for something like six years, and so they bring a lot of experience. They are also a great bunch of guys and so it will be great to work with them,” Ainslie continues.
The most decorated Olympic sailor is unequivocal, as usual, as to what their objective is: “The goal is to win. It always is,” he states.
“But we have a huge amount of respect for all the teams who have been doing this to such a high level for so long, some for a decade now. You look at the guys coming in on Phoenix, on Luna Rossa, for example, and then the established teams like Quantum and Azzurra, and there are some great pro helms in there too. We are under absolutely no illusions what it will take.”
The reality, though, is that it will not be until PalmaVela in early May before Ainslie and crew will actually line up against another 52 Super Series team in full race mode.
“From what I have seen, the boat is good. It performed especially well upwind last season and we have been working very hard with North Sails and Southern Spars to upgrade the rig and sails. The rig – we are looking to improve the stiffness and aerodynamics. This is a great opportunity for our technical sailors and engineers to get their teeth into the project and to build improvements.
“We are looking to see what the new hulls will be like, and the new boats generally. We are always trying to learn what we can, what the word on the street is, and what the developments are generally, but winning this circuit will be about being consistent. It is going to be a fascinating season.”
As for sailing as tactician with owner Langley driving, Ainslie is highly motivated to carry on the good work done by Ed Baird.
“What I have learned from doing this before [sailing with an owner driving], is that success is down to really good communication, and it is critical to manage our expectations. At the end of the day, Tony has to be happy, and we have the right support in the team around us to make sure that happens.”
Ainslie is relishing the chance to be back on the race course, renewing old rivalries – and friendships – with the likes of Brazil’s Robert Scheidt, five-time Olympic medallist, who will sail on Eduardo de Souza Ramos’s new Onda.
“It will be great to catch up with Robert again and have some competitive racing.”