Extreme Sailing Series: Ben Ainslie claims third behind Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi at Nice

 

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The Independent Online

As Morgan Larson steered Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi to another grand prix victory in the Extreme Sailing Series at Nice, and his great rival and defending champion, a crestfallen Leigh McMillan, had a shocker in The Wave, Muscat, so Britain’s multiple Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie saw a “massive learning curve” deliver a series-best third place.

He also has his eye on Britain is leading the charge into the new America’s Cup cycle by staging its first World Series regatta in Portsmouth/Southsea next June. The British challenger for the 35 America’s Cup in 2017, Ben Ainslie Racing, is planning to host the four other challengers plus the American defender, Oracle, and Jimmy Spithill, Australian skipper of Oracle, is predicting there could be two more.

Much has yet to be arranged and the clock is relentlessly ticking. Even the boat has yet to be agreed, with work being done to produce a modified identical design of the existing 45-foot wing-powered catamarans which would incorporate the ability to lift up on foils and skim over the waves.

The full programme for 2015 should be announced by the end of the month but may be restricted to just five regattas, a further three possibilities being Bermuda, Chicago, and San Diego. If the fleet goes to New Zealand that would not be until November/December at the earliest. No regatta is expected in France or Sweden in 2015. The choice of the 2017 America’s Cup venue, thought to be between Bermuda and San Diego, is promised before the end of the year.

Each regatta would cost $2m., possibly $3m., to stage and a blueprint would apply to all of them which would include a television package. “There is a schedule to which everyone is committed and we are in the process of putting contracts in place,” said Ben Ainslie over the weekend, accepting that time is limited when many companies have already allocated marketing and sponsorship budgets for next year and sometimes up to three years ahead.

BAR [Ben Ainslie Racing] is looking for a new title sponsor as its association in its current form with J.P. Morgan comes to an end this year. The Portsmouth-based team, which has been promised £7.5m. of government support plus £1.4m., some of it in kind, from Portsmouth City Council, has said it is seeking an overall budget of £80m and that 40 per cent. is already in place.

It will switch sailing, budget, and organisational focus 100 per cent. to the America’s Cup and its build-up next year, as will other potential challengers who have used the Extreme Sailing Series in what has been a gap year.

But, in contrast to the current position of the America’s Cup Event Authority, OC Sport has announced that it has an eight-venue programme for the Extreme Sailing Series next year, with Singapore and Muscat already announced. It also expects a minimum of an eight-team field, of which four are already known, including Alinghi.

OC Sport, which is helping to manage the Chinese truck manufacturer-sponsored Dongfeng entry in the Volvo round the world race which starts in Alicante next Saturday, may also be called in to help organise at least one of the AC World Series regattas. 

The final day in Nice, with the afternoon breeze at last freshening, was a better one for Leigh McMillan whose The Wave, Muscat, had started last of the 11. “All I can put that down to is that this is typical of sport,” said McMillan. “You walk a tightrope of being exceptional and being far from exceptional and at this event we fell off the tightrope. In a bigger breeze we can look for opportunities to correct mistakes but in these light airs any mistake is 100 per cent. punishing.

“It’s been really tough and Morgan has a substantial eight-point lead going into the final, double points-scoring Sydney regatta in December. So, we will just have to go there and put in a big performance so we can have a crack at him.”

Extreme Sailing Series, Nice; final standings:

1 Alinghi, 183pts

2 Realteam, 171

3 J.P. Morgan, 161

4 Red Bull, 160

5, Emirates Team New Zealand, 156

6, GAC Pindar, 146

7 SAP, 145

8, The Wave, Muscat, 143

9, Groupama, 143

10, Oman Air, 138

11, Team Russia, 133

Overall after seven regattas:

1, Alinghi, 65pts

2, The Wave, Muscat, 57

3, ETNZ, 49

4, Realteam, 45

5, J.P.Morgan, 37

6, Red Bull, 30

7, SAP, 28

8, Oman Air, 24

9, Team Russia, 24

10, Groupama, 22

11, GAC Pindar, 11

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