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America's Cup: Grant Simmer on his first 50 days with Brits

by Land Rover BAR 22 Dec 2017 12:07 PST 23 December 2017

Regarded as one of the top strategic brains in the America's Cup business, Simmer has enjoyed a remarkable America's Cup career right from his first as the 26yr old navigator aboard Australia II in 1983.

Only fifty days have passed since Land Rover BAR announced that Grant Simmer would be the team's new CEO and in that short time a lot has happened! Simmer spent his first two weeks in the Portsmouth base on the Old Camber, and on his second day in the office the new design concept for the boat that will race the 36th America's Cup dropped on his desk. It made the task of meeting new team mates and working up a strategy for the campaign all the more urgent. It's unlikely to faze Simmer, who's been through all this before, many times.

This is just the most recent role in Simmer's long and illustrious Cup career, one that had begun as navigator aboard Australia II in 1983. This was the legendary boat that had finally prised the America's Cup out of the hands of the New York Yacht Club after 132 years. Australia II and her crew have an almost mythical status in sailing: think the Brazilian World Cup team of 1970.

Simmer had gone on to develop a successful professional sailing career as a tactician and navigator, alongside running a sailmaking business back in Australia. Then in 2000 he had joined Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi as Design Team coordinator for the 2003 Cup, before becoming Managing Director, winning two more America's Cups while he was there. After a spell with Team Origin, he joined Team Oracle as General Manager in 2012 and was with them in 2013 for the legendary comeback, when Ben Ainslie was brought onto the Oracle boat as tactician. The four wins as sailor, design coordinator, MD and General Manager give him an almost uniquely wide view and experience of the Cup.

Grant Simmer and Ben Ainslie have known each other a long while. Simmer had been running the British Challenger, Team Origin when it had wrapped up in 2010, and Ainslie had been instrumental in getting him involved in that organisation. Ainslie wanted to bring him into Land Rover BAR from the start in 2013 now four years later, Ainslie has finally got his man.

At the end of his first couple of weeks in the office, we asked Grant Simmer for his thoughts on where the team now stood.

It's nice for me to be joining an established team. There are lots of resources already in place and my job is to utilise those resources and build on those strengths, add depth and fire power where we think it's most needed. The team has been very busy since Bermuda working behind the scenes to analyse the last campaign. It's always tricky to look inwards, but they have completed a good honest process to drill down on what they did well and what needs to be improved.

You have a strong personal relationship with Ben Ainslie that goes back many years; was that the deciding factor in joining Land Rover BAR?

For sure, Ben and I both had a desire to work together again, we have known each other for a long time now and this brings a great level of trust which is essential for these intense America's Cup campaigns. The other deciding factor was that the team already has the base for a strong campaign. I didn't have a great knowledge of the design team but since arriving in Portsmouth I've been impressed and I'm looking forward to working closely with that group in the coming years.

You have the experience of ten America's Cup campaigns, starting as a sailor, then heading up the design team and more recently in senior management roles. What are the major lessons that you bring from this previous experience?

That's a big question, what I can bring is both a depth of experience from sailing, design, management and team management which I have been involved in at various levels. More recently in the team management role – the important thing going forward from here is making sure we focus on priorities in all areas of the programme to maximise our chance of winning the Cup.

What did you learn about Land Rover BAR watching from the outside as a competitor for the 35th America's Cup?

Land Rover BAR presented extremely well for a new team. On the water they won the America's Cup World Series and they were commercially successful off the water. They look like a strong professional team, but the result for them in Bermuda was obviously disappointing and that was largely down to being a first-time challenger and having to create a technical strategy from scratch. Since Bermuda the team has addressed the areas they need to improve and we can learn from these mistakes. We are certainly ready to hit the ground running now and be stronger for the next Cup.

What is it that particularly excites you about joining this team?

One of the biggest pleasures about the America's Cup is working in a team environment with everyone committed to achieving the same goal. It makes you extremely driven to achieve for each other. I'm looking forward to forging new working and social relationships and being part of a winning team.

What needs to be the biggest focus for the team over the next year?

Next year is going to be critical for the team, we need to continue to establish our design strategy, develop the tools we need to make good design decisions and ultimately design our first AC75 Cup boat. We will also be putting together the core of our sailing team and finding the best way for that sailing team to work together with the design team, the boat builders and the shore team. 2018 will lay the foundation for the whole campaign.

In terms of timeline, what are the critical factors and major milestones?

The race boat launch dates are crucial. The date you set to launch creates milestones in the whole campaign and affects the timelines for many different projects. We will firstly need to have the resources in place to build these boats, source all the components and have the design and sailing team in place to design and then sail the boat.

Are you looking forward to packing your bags and moving to a new country?

I enjoy being involved in the challenge of an America's Cup team. My preference was to live longer in my home country of Australia but when Ben pushed me, the opportunity to join Land Rover BAR and do another Cup campaign was too much of a draw. My wife Alex and I have been moving since 2000 and lived in various locations around the world. We are looking forward to settling down in Portsmouth, it's steeped in maritime history and the local fanbase have been great supporters of the team.

Finally, we've had an important few weeks with the announcement of the Protocol and boat concept, what are your thoughts so far and what is the biggest challenge that lies ahead?

The biggest challenge is the boat. What stands out from the class information we have received is that it's a bold decision by Emirates Team New Zealand. It's radical and ambitious and presents a huge challenge both at a sporting level and technical level. For sure it will be exciting, fast and edgy which is good for the Cup.

Currently it looks like the boat build costs, technical development and logistics are going to be extremely expensive but we are ready to take on both the financial, technical and sporting challenge.

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