Britain’s triple Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie will be helping the Americans to defend the America’s Cup next year in a strange hybrid deal announced today at London’s Festival Hall.
In a move which seems to have him riding two horses at once, he will be contesting the America’s Cup World Series representing the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club but is being welcomed into the San Francisco-based Oracle defence team and saying he hopes Oracle will win the cup.
How he would vote in the competitor forum, which includes teams from France, China, Korea, Spain, Italy and New Zealand, is unclear, as is whether he intends to pay the $200,000 entry fee that would give him a full vote at the America’s Cup table.
The 34th America’s Cup, which started with a yacht of that name beating the best of Britain in a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851, will be staged in San Francisco next year, But Ainslie, who has long wanted a campaign of his own and had seemed to be on his way with Sir Keith Mills’ Origin team, will have to wait under the terms of the deal struck with the man appointed to run the next cup, Kiwi Sir Russell Coutts.
Coutts has welcomed him, expensively, into the Oracle fold with the creation of Ben Ainslie Racing, which should make its debut in San Francisco in September in a 45-foot, wing-powered catamaran of the kind used in a series of exhibition regattas.The extent of the funding from Oracle is unclear and it is said that Ainslie will be paying his own bills.
Until September, Ainslie has been picked to represent Britain at the Olympic sailing regatta in Weymouth. A win there would give him a fourth consecutive gold medal to add to his silver in Savannah in 1996.
Before that he faces a tribunal hearing into being disqualified from the last races of a world championship in Fremantle last month for leaping from his Finn singlehanded dinghy onto a television boat to remonstrate with the driver. A jury at the time said there were mitigating circumstances and the British tribunal being convened by the Royal Yachting Association is expected to say that the disqualification was punishment enough.
But the tribunal findings will be passed to the International Sailing Federation’s executive committee. As this was not his first brush with authority for gross misconduct, Ainslie must hope that he is not given a suspension that would prevent him from competing in his home Olympics.
On joining Oracle Ainslie, who has been photographed in an Oracle crew shirt, said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity, I have a huge amount of respect for Russell, Jimmy (Spithill, the current Oracle skipper) and everyone involved. I think with the direction the cup has taken in the last few years, it’s actually really important that Oracle wins again and it continues on the path that it has taken. I’m very excited about it and hopefully I can help the team retain the Cup.
“I’ve always tried to have a plan of what I’m doing next after the Olympics. The 2012 Olympics has been the focus, but from that has come the opportunity to be able to build a team which we hope can ultimately go on to challenge for the 35th America’s Cup,” he added.
Ainslie has yet to name who will be in his team, though the Australian Grant Simmer, who ran Origin after Mike Sanderson left, will manage it. It is expected that double gold medallist Iain Percy may switch from Artemis, while his Star crew, Andrew Simpson, would join the afterguard.
Nor is the full extent known of the deal between himself and Oracle. The powerfully-funded defender, owned by software house billionaire boss Larry Ellison, is asking questions about how much and with whom it can collaborate in the building and testing of the 72-foot catamarans in which both the Louis Vuitton challenger series and the cup defence will be contested.
At the same time, the Prada fashion house-backed Luna Rossa team has arrived in Auckland from Italy, joined by British Olympic medallist Chris Draper, as part of its joint programme with Team New Zealand to contest the cup. The only other confirmed challenger is Sweden’s Artemis, led by Paul Cayard and funded by Torbjorn Tornqvist. Both Artemis and Oracle have asked for clarification over the validity of the TNZ/Luna Rossa deal.