America’s Cup 2017: Sir Ben Ainslie waiting on AC35 format before decision to mount British challenge

 

A moment of truth is rushing up for Sir Ben Ainslie and his hopes of mounting a British challenge for the next America’s Cup. The format for the next Cup, AC35, in 2017 was expected in March. Latest whispers say it could be next Monday or Tuesday. Even then, it will be incomplete.

Patrizio Bertelli has already committed €50 million of his Prada fashion house backing to Italy’s Luna Rossa. Sweden’s Torbjorn Tornqvist spent €120 million on the 2013 Artemis challenge which claimed the life of British gold and silver medallist Andrew Simpson.

Despite any complications caused by the United States targeting Russian oil company links following the upheaval in Crimea, Tornqvist is unlikely to be any less full-blooded in his backing for Simpson’s Olympic partner Iain Percy, who now leads the Artemis challenge.

Estimates on the defence budget at computer mogul Larry Ellison’s Oracle start at the eye-watering and rise to the astronomical. It will, to say the least, be adequate.

The Kiwis are in the midst of appointing a new board to Emirates Team New Zealand. The government has already put in NZ$5m. of pump priming, has been kept in the re-organisation planning loop throughout, and is apparently happy to see chief executive Grant Dalton moved upwards as his lieutenant Kevin Shoebridge takes over the day to day running.  

And that leaves Sir Ben, the quadruple Olympic gold medallist (he has a silver, too), who played such a prominent role in the comeback from 1-8 down to 9-8 winning defenders of the America’s Cup, Oracle, needing to know how the next one will be played.

He has already been in the recruitment market with the help of finance from a mixture of private and corporate backers, but the full steam ahead lever cannot be activated until he knows more exactly the scale of the task ahead of him.

He is not alone; but the quirky sailing trophy, which dates back to 1851, is not subject to anything like any other major sports event. There is no set time, place, equipment or even race format.

It can, and does, change every time, meaning that Ainslie is at the mercy of a strange negotiation process between the defender and a so-called Challenger of Record, this time the Hamilton Island Yacht Club of Australia. Iain Murray, who was boss of the racing management team in San Francisco last year, heads Bob Oatley’s Challenger of Record group and has held talks individually with each of the teams, but never as a group.

That means that both the defender and the lead challenger will have had valuable design information on the 2017 boat, expected to be a 62-foot catamaran which can lift on to foils to skim across the top of the water, ahead of everyone else. Introducing some standardization of anything from parts of the wing sail or other structures would benefit everyone equally. 

But that is of limited value until a decision has been taken on where the next America’s Cup will be staged. That may take several more months. San Francisco conditions are different to Newport, Chicago, and especially Honolulu.

What does appear to have been dropped is a proposal, given voice by Larry Ellison, to have just two northern and two southern hemisphere challengers dispute the final knockout stage at the eventual venue for the right to line up against Oracle in the one-on-one Cup match, which was a best of 17 last time.

The preliminary eliminations would be staged in regattas around the world in 45-foot catamarans, said Ellison. This would have made it difficult for challenging teams to raise the funding for a campaign which included designing and possible building of 62-foot catamarans that would never be needed if that team were to miss the final four cut.  

Sir Ben has made it clear that he will not lead a challenge which cannot win, either because of technical ability or, especially, not having enough money.

Candidates to be the British base for his team, with the Solent a frontrunner, are already being studied; a venue for a British 45-foot regatta is being considered – Plymouth hosted an event in 2011 which was deemed a success.

Any crew nationality rule – if the 25 per cent. number in early discussions is adopted that would mean just two – would easily be met under an Ainslie plan which would also incorporate a lot of British engineering and boatbuilding expertise.

But every stage completed is welcome in a game where, ultimately, time is even more valuable than money.

Giles Scott defended his Finn title on the final day of the ISAF Sailing World Cup Mallorca as British sailors claimed a total of five medals on the final day of competition.

Scott’s gold and four bronze medals for fellow crews from bought the British medal tally to seven, Helena Lucas and Megan Pascoe starting the count with their respective gold and silver medals in the 2.4mR Paralympic class which concluded on Friday.

Chloe Martin had earlier started the day’s medal count for Great Britain, claiming bronze and her first World Cup podium finish in the Laser Radial event.

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark closed off a medal in their first World Cup regatta of the 2016 cycle, securing bronze with a second place in the medal race.

The finals for the 49erFX class comprised three short, sharp single-points ‘stadium’ races to determine the winners, with Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth proving their boat-handling and consistency amid the light winds to take bronze in the women’s skiff event.

European Champions Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign capped off the day’s spoils with a bronze in the 49er class, which also raced three short single points races for their finale.

GBR medallists at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Mallorca:

Gold

Giles Scott (Finn)

Helena Lucas (2.4mR)

Silver

Megan Pascoe (2.4mR)

Bronze

Chloe Martin (Laser Radial)

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (470 Women)

Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth (49erFX)

Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign (49er)

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