Ainslie aiming for more plain sailing in America's Cup

FILE PHOTO - Britain Sailing - America’s Cup Media Event - House of Garrard, Mayfair, London - 25/1/17 Sir Ben Ainslie of the Land Rover BAR team during a press conference Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge

LONDON (Reuters) - With four-times winner Grant Simmer leading his Land Rover BAR team, Ben Ainslie will have more time to focus on sailing in his latest quest to bring the America's Cup back to Britain.

"My relationship with Grant is such that we will be able to run the team together ... but he is the guy implementing those decisions that we make," Ainslie said on Thursday after revealing he had hired the former Oracle Team USA boss.

Ainslie worked closely with Simmer when the Australian led Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA to victory in San Francisco in 2013. Ainslie was drafted in late as tactician and helped overhaul a huge deficit to win the coveted "Auld Mug".

"I didn't speak to anyone else, I was that certain he was the person I wanted to bring in," Ainslie told Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that Simmer's appointment would allow him to focus on sailing.

Simmer, general manager of Oracle Team USA when it lost the cup to Emirates Team New Zealand in Bermuda in June, will take over as CEO from former McLaren Formula One team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

Whitmarsh will remain as an adviser and become CEO of BAR Technologies, a subsidiary set up to commercialise some of the developments pioneered while building the high-tech boats.

While Ainslie and his Land Rover BAR team were knocked out by the eventual winners in Bermuda, they have regrouped and are preparing a new campaign with the benefit of lessons learned.

"My own personal performance in Bermuda wasn't that bad, I was the best starting helmsman ... my technical performance was good," Ainslie said. But that, he admits, was not enough to win.

"Personally I was arguably stretched too thin, I needed to be able to focus on key areas," he added.


Ainslie said Simmer's arrival in mid-November would bolster the team at a critical moment in their preparations for the next America's Cup in 2021, a campaign which will cost roughly 100 million pounds ($130 million).

"He (Simmer) can squeeze every last ounce of performance out of a team," Ainslie said, adding that his new recruit had won the America's Cup not only as a manager but also as a sailor and a designer during an illustrious career.

While there will be other personnel changes, Giles Scott, the Briton who took over Ainslie's mantle in the Finn class by winning Olympic Gold in 2016, has been retained as tactician.

"We've signed Giles already, (he) was one of the first signings we made. We built up a great relationship," Ainslie said, adding that there may be slight changes to the sailing team as the America's Cup switches from high-tech foiling catamarans to monohulls with more crew on board.

Ainslie said around 75 percent of his "pure race team" of about 100 people would be original members, with the remainder new hires with new skills in areas such as design.

"A new class of boat does create more opportunities and from a design perspective it is more exciting," Ainslie said of the switch to the monohulls chosen by New Zealand.

One factor differentiating Ainslie's latest campaign is sponsorship, with Land Rover, fund manager Aberdeen and Coutts already confirmed as backers and negotiations underway with BT and CMC Markets.

"Fantastic" private investors who have put their faith in sailing's most successful Olympian's mission to bring the Cup home had also played a key role, their financial support enabling him to keep key people on board, Ainslie said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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