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Gladwell's Line: British Challenge ups the tempo

by Richard Gladwell, 1 May 2018 04:11 PDT 1 May 2018
INEOS Founder and Chairman, Jim Ratcliffe described Ben Ainslie as the `Usain Bolt` of sailing - shown here soon after winning his fifth Olympic medal and fourth Gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Regatta, Weymouth © Richard Gladwell

At last, there has been some America's Cup news that is not about some politico's warblings, the umteenth option for base locations or yet another Kiwi pressure group trying to use the America's Cup as a crowbar to achieve some aspirational agenda.

Last Friday, at the Prospect of Whitby, a Thameside pub dating back to 1520, Ben Ainslie announced that there had been a major change in the financial backing of the British America's Cup team challenging through an affiliate club of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

The "new" money in the City who'd backed the first challenge by Ben Ainslie Racing has been quietly shuffled off centre-stage, along with Land Rover as naming rights sponsor, to make way for a new single sponsor, INEOS, a privately owned petrochemical conglomerate, who will pump £110million/NZD$217million into the Challenge.

Part of that eye watering sum is believed to be a payout to the existing sponsor/backing team.

The former management and financiers associated with LRBAR's Bermuda challenge, outwardly wished the new group well. While their AC50 appeared to be lacking in the boat-speed department in Bermuda, the management group were able to put together a very good infrastructure of bases, sailing programs and networks that extended far beyond just the America's Cup program. It is a big ask to get a first time Cup team to function properly, but they did well. It will be interesting to see how much of that rich inventory is engaged in the current Challenge.

Land Rover BAR was not quite so restrained their surprise exit saying in a statement: "We are extremely disappointed having worked tirelessly to support Ben and the entire team. It is a great blow to us all that our partnership will not continue."

Describing how the new deal came about, Jim Ratcliffe, founder and chairman of INEOS, said he thought he was merely going out to have a drink, arranged by a mutual friend, with Ainslie - and one thing led to another.

Our guess that Ainslie's team had done their detailed budgeting and concluded that they would be seriously short of funds for a two boat AC75 challenge.

As he exited the last America's Cup, Ainslie said that the Land Rover BAR Challenge had signed the same sponsorship team for the 36th America's Cup, and it was full speed ahead. That was with a £80million commitment, not the £110million program that the darling of the British sailing now leads.

With the budgeting done for an Auckland based venue, our guess from 12,000 miles away is that Ainslie met with Jim Ratcliffe with the objective of topping up the already committed £80million budget to the level they required - in excess of £110million.

Rather than tipping in the extra £30million required, Ratcliffe who is founder and chairman of the largest privately owned company in Britain - with pretax earnings of £2billion last year - wanted a clean boat and sole sponsorship if INEOS was to be involved.

That triggered a delicate "Dear John" conversation with the City backers of Land Rover BAR and naming rights sponsor Land Rover themselves, who made their views clear in the terse media statement above.

The new deal was apparently put together in just four weeks. But that's one of the advantages of dealing directly with the owner of a privately owned company rather than negotiating with a bevvy of corporate lawyers.

The situation is reminiscent of Sir Tom Clark's agreement to back Peter Blake's Ceramco New Zealand 1981/82 Whitbread WTWR campaign. The way Clark told it, he made the sponsorship agreement with Blake and then told his Board of the deal he had signed!

Outwardly Ben Ainslie's line was that with the increased sponsorship the team could now afford to build a second AC75. It was a little surprising to hear that they had not factored the second boat into their budgets at the same cost as an AC50.

In an almost throwaway line, Ainslie mentioned in a post-announcement interview that the team would be launching a test boat as permitted under the Surrogate boat rules, which will be launched in the British summer - meaning it is three or four months away.

That should get enormous publicity for INEOS, with most pundits not being able to understand the physics and geometry of the AC75. Many don't believe the AC75 monohull will be able to foil, despite the assurances from the design boffins - and half-expect the concept to fall flat on its snout.

The new British Challenge can be assured of another generous serving of Royal Patronage, echoing the best of British mantra. The three second-tier sponsors are all part of the INEOS group - spread across automotive manufacture, clothing and accommodation. The single sponsor approach has meant that Ben Ainslie Racing will be contracted to INEOS to provide a boat and run a program. Presumably the idea is that INEOS picks up the corporate side of the equation and runs that for the benefit of the Group. That being so, Ainslie will be relieved of a lot of corporate heavy lifting ashore - allowing the five-time Olympic medal winner to focus on the race boat and program.

A surprise from the surrogate boat comment is that INEOS Team GB will have to design and construct their own carbon arms and steel foils, without the design detail from the Cor/D design group - and knowing that for the AC75 the arms and foils are specified as a supplied part.

One of the learnings from the last America's Cup was that a lot of time and budget can be easily frittered away on surrogate boats. At least three of the Class of 2017 built multiple AC45S development boats each. Team New Zealand's experience was that their development boat cost more than the AC50 itself.

There is always a temptation early in the AC cycle to load up early with test-kit and hardware. It gives the sailors something to do and issues for the designers to ponder. Outwardly the team has some purpose, and routine, but in hindsight they can be a huge distraction. In AC36/Bermuda some teams had up to four AC45S prototype boats in their arsenal. The winner only had one AC45S albeit cunningly stretched to have the same geometry as the AC50. That plus ETNZ's computer simulation gave them an edge over the other teams.

As mentioned, the INEOS Team GB made their announcement at the Prospect of Whitby. The 16th-century pub is handily placed to the infamous Execution Dock, where condemned navy sailors and Buccaneers were executed.

A replica gallows complete with hangman's noose is nearby, prompting Ainslie to quip that it might be his fate if he did not return with the America's Cup.

Second US Challenger

On Wednesday US website broke the news of a second US America's Cup challenge being formed, but didn't name who was involved despite having permission to do so from one of the key players.

It fell to the America's Cup correspondent Bernie Wilson (AP) to break the whole story, three days later. One of the crew of the winning Congressional Cup has secured the majority of the funding required to support a second America's Cup entry from USA.

Mike Buckley (35) says they have been working on the project for a year. The team will be an all-US effort and it is expected to sign the Congressional Cup winning helmsman, Taylor Canfield as skipper.

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