Home team Land Rover BAR saw off a challenge by America's Cup defenders Oracle Team USA to win the Portsmouth ACWS and take the overall series lead
Today at the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Portsmouth was tagged ‘Super Sunday’, and it delivered on the promise, with the result hanging on a single point difference in the final race.
This second UK World Series event has felt very much like a dress rehearsal for the Cup coming to Britain. After the teething issues of the first event – when organizers battled gale force winds and driving rain, as well as numerous logistical challenges – this year Portsmouth delivered on all fronts, no less than today with foiling conditions of 14-16 knots, a big turnout of committed fans, and a perfect script as Land Rover BAR dueled it out with Oracle Team USA in a nail-biting finale.
The British camp wanted this. David ‘Freddie’ Carr was clearly affected by the support for his team as he appeared on the main stage before racing. Spectators had staked out their places on the shoreline over three hours before the racing began, and the race village was packed with fans, many proudly wearing their own sailing team kit to mark themselves out as one of the tribe. The infectious enthusiasm of Optimist and Mirror sailors after hi-fiving Ainslie or getting a glimpse of one of their heroes just never gets old.
But more than anything it was the racing which showed just how far things have come in a year since the first World Series event here in 2015 when many teams were still finding their feet in the foiling AC45s, today it was about truly world-class tactical racing. While the first day saw some shake-ups – the French putting in a good showing, the Kiwis and Artemis struggling – today it was time for the boss teams to come to the fore, and that meant a showdown between Oracle Team USA and Land Rover BAR.
Jimmy Spithill wanted victory here too. The defenders have not yet won a World Series event, and would have relished taking down one of their main challengers. Ainslie said after racing: “Knowing Jimmy I know he’d have loved nothing more than to have beaten us today in front of the home crowd, that’s just how his mentality works! So to block that was big for us.”
Things got off to a straightforward start for Ainslie’s team, hitting the first line at speed and extending away in full foiling conditions and relatively flat water to win easily from Oracle Team USA.
The closest contests were between Emirates Team New Zealand, SoftBank Team Japan and Artemis Racing, frequently changing places in the battle for third. SoftBank Team Japan went on to take the overall final podium position . Franck Cammas’s Groupama didn’t recapture their positive form from the previous day, and finished sixth, looking off the pace for much of the day.
Emirates Team New Zealand set out to stop Ainslie’s dominance of the start in Race 2, and held them off the windward end of the line. But it was Oracle Team USA, Artemis and SoftBank Team Japan who led away. Ainslie’s team held their nerve, and saw off a challenge from Emirates Team New Zealand for second. Ashby’s team split to the right-hand side of the course, and lost several places, while Land Rover BAR and Oracle Team USA hit over 26 knots on the penultimate leg.
Going into the final race the calculators were out – Land Rover BAR led the event overall on 64 points, Oracle Team USA on 61. Spithill got the better start, with Ainslie chasing. The Land Rover BAR made a rare mistake on the first gybe, bumping down onto both hulls and losing speed. The pressure was on, with Oracle Team USA covering them tack for tack in the hope that they could slow the British team sufficiently that SoftBank Team Japan could sneak through for second.
It wasn’t to be – Oracle Team USA won, but Ainslie took second, enough to not only win the Portsmouth event, but move into first overall in the World Series, now leading the defenders Oracle Team USA by a single point while previous leaders Emirates Team New Zealand dropped to third.
Ainslie said after racing: “The guys were quite understandably quite emotional because it’s not often you get to race in front of a big home crowd like that. I think they’ve been seeing how much home support there was and to actually pull it off meant a lot to them.”
To win on home turf is about more than putting on a good show, however. “Our philosophy was that as a new team we had to prove that we could perform at this level. As a new sailing team, a group of people coming together for the first time, we needed to get performing at the top of this fleet, otherwise you can’t build the confidence and aura that you need to perform at the highest level. So I’m very pleased that we’ve done that.”
The victory also shows the depth of talent in the Land Rover BAR camp. While crew reshuffles on other boats caused a distinct loss of form – Emirates Team New Zealand finishing third and Artemis Racing sixth overall, having both lost their regular helmsmen to Olympic duties in Rio – Briton Giles Scott’s absence didn’t reveal any hit of weakness, with Ed Powys again ably standing into the tactician’s role.
“Ed did a brilliant job stepping in for Giles. He’s done a fantastic job these last three events, really stepped up to the plate. There was a lot of pressure on him in front of the home crowd but he’s a great sailor. He’s physically naturally very fit but he’s also got a straightforward attitude, no hype, he just gets on with the job and he’s a very talented sailor,” commented Ainslie.
Results – America’s Cup World Series Portsmouth 2016
1 Land Rover BAR 82 points
2 Oracle Team USA 81 points
3 SoftBank Team Japan 69 points
4 Emirates Team New Zealand 62 points
5 Groupama Team France 58 points
6 Artemis Racing 53 points
Results – America’s Cup World Series overall
1 Land Rover BAR 367 points
2 Oracle Team USA 366 points
3 Emirates Team New Zealand 357 points
4 SoftBank Team Japan 328 points
6 Artemis Racing 315 points
5 Groupama Team France 292 points