British billionaire’s company is fully funding Ben Ainslie’s second America's Cup campaign, with a two-boat campaign in new foiling monohulls

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Anglo-Swiss chemicals and manufacturing company Ineos will fully fund Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team in what is the biggest – and fastest – sponsorship investment in British sailing. The £110m deal, aimed at winning back the Cup for the first time in 167 years, was signed a mere four weeks after Ineos founder, chairman and majority shareholder Jim Ratcliffe met Ainslie in a pub and chatted over a beer.

The company will back the Ainslie’s BAR team through to the America’s Cup in New Zealand in 2021, replacing Jaguar Land Rover. The scale of the deal means Ainslie will not have to find other backers. It will allow his team to build and test two boats for the new AC75 rule and, crucially, allow Ainslie to focus on performance decisions.

Getting it right

“Three things you have to get right: you have to have a great skipper, a great design team and you have to be fully funded,” Ratcliffe said at the surprise announcement in April.

“The reason we decided eventually to put our hand in our pockets — which doesn’t happen every day — is because we’ve got the Usain Bolt of sailing, [chief executive] Grant Simmer and designer Nick Holroyd. The objective is to get a boat to the start line which has as good a chance as any.”

“Jim was straight on to the fact that we needed to build two boats and the commercial challenges and the budgets required for that,” said Ainslie. “This will allow us to build on the foundations from the last campaign and I can take this forward with Ineos Team GB.”

The speed of the agreement with Ineos, vital to give Ainslie’s team critical development time, also says a great deal about the decisive role of Ratcliffe, who intends to be very involved in the campaign.

“I’m not an afficionado of sailing at all, no,” he admits. “I just met Ben through a mutual friend to have a beer, nothing more,” he told us, “and it wasn’t to talk about the America’s Cup. It’s taken four weeks [from that] to saying ‘We’re on.’”

When I remark that it’s probably the quickest sailing sponsorship in history, as well as one of the biggest, he laughs: “Yes probably.”

Technical challenges

A chemical engineer who became an investment specialist before founding the chemicals giant in 1998, Ratcliffe has built Ineos into a multinational company that reported a profit of €4.4bn in 2016. He says the campaign’s technical challenge is an attraction, despite the new AC75 rule being so ambitious – and potentially risky. 

“I wouldn’t say that [the risk] doesn’t bother me, but I recognise it as a technical challenge so we need to find a way of making sure we’ve got good answers.”

Ben Ainslie with Ineos founder, chairman and majority shareholder Jim Ratcliffe, the new title sponsor of the BAR America’s Cup challenge

Asked he will be playing a key part, he replies: “Yep, I will. It will probably be a day a month for the next three or four years, so it is quite a time commitment from me.

“But we’re only there to help, not to tell them what to do. We do big capital projects which are quite a lot bigger than £100 million normally; they can be half a billion or a billion. So we are used to managing big programmes with a lot of mechanical things and there might be things we can bring to bear that could be helpful.”

As Ineos Team GB, Ainslie’s team aims to launch its first 30ft scale test foiling monohull this summer, and work towards a first AC75 next spring.

The first 30ft test boat “will look very much the same [as the AC75 renderings],” says chief designer Nick Holroyd. “When foiling, it will behave very similarly. But what happens with smaller boats is that the reaction time is less – at times it might exceed human reaction times. So we are probably flirting with that edge at a smaller scale.”

The new rule is hugely ambitious and although experienced designers understand a great deal about foils, the AC75 is very different platform – a monohull without a keel – and that places teams at the start of a steep new learning curve.

Short runway

“Intellectually, it’s a really interesting boat,” says Holroyd. “When you put a multihull off foils down on the water, at the point where you have one hull flying that’s kind of your maximum righting moment really and that’s a fixed number.

“With the foil out to the side generating [it], your available righting moment becomes a function of speed so it’s quite a complex relationship in terms of how much sail power you have to accelerate the boat, and the process of getting the boat to accelerate to generate more righting moment.”

Ineos BAR chief designer Nick Holroyd

“We have a very short runway,” Holroyd adds. “The hull design is a very open part of the rule. So therefore to build a boat to be at a regatta in September next year and the logistics of getting it to Italy plus time on the boat – the problem is sitting in your lap right now.”

To date, there are four confirmed teams for the 2021 Cup: defender Emirates Team New Zealand; challenger of record Luna Rossa; Ainslie’s Ineos Team GB; and the American Magic New York Yacht Club challenge. There are also rumours of possible Australian and Chinese teams.