LONDON (Reuters) - Tackling the twin peaks of the America’s Cup and the high-octane SailGP racing circuit is part of Ben Ainslie’s grand plan to create the world’s leading sailing outfit.
And Britain’s Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history, is raring to race his foiling catamaran in SailGP’s second series, which hits Sydney Harbour on Friday.
“It’s a busy, intense schedule ... (but) ultimately we want to be the best sailing team in the world,” INEOS-backed Ainslie told Reuters by telephone this week after practice racing.
Seven teams are set to compete in one-design, state-of-the-art F50 catamarans this year in a race to land a $1 million prize in sailing’s equivalent of Formula One.
The catamarans, which “fly” above the water on hydrofoils, are an updated version of those used in the America’s Cup in 2017 and have hit speeds of 50 knots (93 kms per hour).
SailGP was set up in 2018 by Oracle founder Larry Ellison and America’s Cup veteran Russell Coutts after Emirates Team New Zealand lifted the trophy in 2017 and opted to switch to experimental foiling monohulls.
A SailGP campaign costs each team around $7 million a year, whereas Ainslie’s tilt at the America’s Cup with INEOS Team UK in 2021 is costing more than 110 million pounds ($143 million).
Ainslie and his America’s Cup crew have been testing their AC75 boat “Britannia” off the waters of Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia, where the first of a series of races for the oldest international sporting trophy is due to be held in April.
“We went well ... The big take-away was the intensity of the racing. We are sharpening up our race skills with the America’s Cup in mind,” Ainslie said of his SailGP practice races.
While juggling the demands of both events is proving “quite intense”, Ainslie is convinced that they fit well together.
“We have got a big enough squad that we can rotate people around if needs be,” he said.
Ainslie’s crew for the SailGP series includes Australian Olympic gold and silver medal-winning sailor Iain Jensen and British Olympic gold winning rower Matt Gotrel.
As well as testing the crews on the water, SailGP’s new series represents an evolution for the fledgling event as it seeks to build television and online audiences and sponsorship.
This month SailGP said it had sold a minority stake to sports and entertainment group Endeavor in a deal which valued it at $200 million.
Reporting by Alexander Smith; Editing by Ed Osmond