After weeks of training in the storm ravaged Solent, Sir Ben Ainslie’s Extreme 40 crew on JP Morgan BAR are bracing themselves for a soft and breezeless start to their first ever Extreme Sailing Series campaign when racing gets underway in Singapore on Thursday.
His first appearance on the race track since the dramatic Oracle USA win in the America’s Cup last September, Ainslie’s Extreme campaign represents a radically different challenge to the one that turned him into a household name five months ago.
Instead of racing against one other team in a similar boat in a windy San Francisco, he will be one of 12 skippers in identical boats in windless Singapore though the line up includes familiar old rival Dean Barker of Emirates Team New Zealand who will be looking to avenge the shocking defeat he suffered at the hands of Oracle USA in one of the greatest come-backs in sporting history.
Ainslie’s newly formed team of five sailors, compared to a seasoned crew of 11 on Oracle’s AC72, will face a tricky time manoeuvring the 40 foot Extreme catamaran round an impossibly tight course in downtown Singapore where the sailing stadium is surrounded by high rise office blocks, shopping malls and bars.
Compared to the AC72s, which went 1.8 times the speed of wind, the Extreme 40s have no foils and no wingsails and with a forecast for relentlessly light and shifty breeze, the crew will have their work cut out to gain an edge on experienced Extreme 40 teams, such as defending champions The Wave Muscat, who have years of experience of the boats, the courses and the competition.
The 2014 ESS would represent a test for them, said Ainslie who competed in three Acts during the 2011 season as skipper of Oman Air.
“We are all looking forward to Singapore; it is our first ESS event competing together so it is a pretty big test for us,” he said.
“There are eight Acts over the course of the year so this will be a complete learning curve and we are looking to set ourselves up for the challenging series ahead.”
Ainslie has Olympic gold medallists Pippa Wilson and Paul Goodison in his team which comprises all British sailors. Neither have raced Extreme 40s before though Nick Hutton and Matt Cornwall who make up the rest of Ainslie’s crew have both competed on the circuit in previous years.
Few doubt that JP Morgan BAR will be in contention for the 2014 title but it could take most of the 28 races that make up each Act in the first three bouts in Singapore, Muscat and Qingdao to start posting podium places on a consistent basis.
They will be up against two times Extreme champion Leigh McMillan, the British skipper of The Wave Muscat and the formidable Franck Cammas of France who like Ainslie is using the Extreme Sailing Series as training ground for the next America’s Cup and like Ainslie has a zero tolerance approach to being beaten.