Ben Ainslie's America’s Cup dream nears reality as UK named key race host


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The Independent Online

When Sir Ben Ainslie wants to achieve something, he has a habit of making it happen. Now he has revealed the first stages of his long-held target to get the America’s Cup to Britain and, more specifically, Portsmouth.

Two World Series races will take place in the waters off the city, by the Isle of Wight, in 2015 and 2016. It was here that the first America’s Cup race was sailed, in 1851. It was won by the Americans – no British team has won it. Ainslie announced earlier this year he was putting together a crew with the aim of challenging Oracle Team USA in 2017 for sport’s oldest trophy.

A £12m sailing hub being built in Portsmouth with £7.5m of public funds will be completed in May next year and will become the home of BAR – Ben Ainslie Racing.

Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history, was brought into the American team during last year’s America’s Cup in San Francisco, when the team were losing 8-0. He helped completely turned around their fortunes and they won a truly historic contest 9-8.

The next race takes place in 2017 – Hamilton in Bermuda and San Diego, California are the candidates – when the defending champions get to choose the venue and, to some extent, the rules.

Great Britain will be challenging for that title under Ainslie’s leadership. Five challengers compete in three stages of qualifying over the next three years for the right to take on Oracle.

Ainslie, the four-times Olympic gold medallist, believes that the America’s Cup has the potential to completely rejuvenate Portsmouth, one of the country’s more neglected cities.

“The public money isn’t going into the team itself,” he said. “It’s going into the base, which will be a visitors’ centre, somewhere to bring schoolkids in and for education and apprenticeships.

“What we’d like to see the America’s Cup do is what Formula One has done in the Thames Valley, and there are literally hundreds of companies involved in supplying the Formula One industry.

“If we were to bring the America’s Cup itself to Portsmouth, it would create thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in revenue. There is huge potential but even just having the America’s Cup World Series and the team being based in Portsmouth will create hundreds of jobs directly and indirectly. That will have a big impact on the area.”

To mount a real challenge will require investment well into the tens of millions, which can be used to secure the kind of technological innovation more commonly seen in F1. Ainsle is already in discussions with Adrian Newey, the F1 engineer and Red Bull technical director.

He has recently confirmed that Giles Scott, who has replaced him in the Finn class in Great Britain’s sailing team – and is already world champion and firm favourite for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – will join BAR for the America’s Cup challenge.