By James Toney
Sir Ben Ainslie is a man in a hurry, with a never-ending to do list and not enough hours in the day.It’s exactly one month before Land Rover BAR, Great Britain’s America’s Cup team, start their campaign for sport’s oldest international trophy
And Ainslie can hear the countdown clock getting louder and louder. Unceasing and unremitting, it ticks down relentlessly. Every hour is precious, time is the most prized commodity and sleep, well, that can wait until late July.
With four Olympic golds and an America’s Cup win in a sailing resume that is without parallel, Ainslie certainly knows what it takes to win.
Which is just as well because the America’s Cup is sport’s ultimate winner-takes-all showdown – to the victor goes all the spoils, from the chance to make the rules, host the title defence and qualify straight to the next final.
When Queen Victoria, watching the very first race back in 1851 asked who was second, she received the reply: "There is no second, your Majesty”.
And not much has changed in the 166 years since – with a British boat still waiting for a winning moment.
However, Ainslie knows ending that streak won’t be easy. Larry Ellison, the software billionaire behind defending champions Oracle Team USA, had two attempts to win the ‘Auld Mug’ before he was finally successful in 2010.
He admits it will be extra hard as a start-up team but insists the next month of preparation and planning can make a big difference to performance when they start their racing against close friend Iain Percy’s Swedish-backed Artemis.
“There’s no more days off, no more time out – this is it now,” he said. “We all want more time but it’s the one thing we can’t buy unfortunately.
“As a new team it takes much longer but I’m really proud of our design and technical group, they are a strong unit and our progress has been fantastic.
“The question is can we get all our new developments on the boat in time and can we learn to get the maximum performance from it?
“We’ve worked so hard for the last three years and it’s incredible what we’ve achieved in that time. We are in it to win it, those are our expectations but we know how tough it will be.
“We’re a new team and we’ve been on the back foot but I believe we’ve really closed the gap on the others. I think we can achieve a ten percent performance gain in this final period, it’s the most critical time of the entire campaign. I just hope we can we learn to sail the boat in the time we’ve got left.
“It’s been tough on our families and the next few weeks won’t be any easier. We’ve already become a tight unit and we are all committed to doing this for Queen and country.”All six America’s Cup teams have now set up their bases in Bermuda and are undergoing final drills on the Great Sound, the spectacular race track that will be the background to close-quarter, high-speed racing in the weeks ahead.
Ainslie will compete twice against rivals from the USA, Sweden, France, Japan and New Zealand with the top four teams progressing to the play-off semi-finals with the American Defender, skippered by Jimmy Spithill, heading straight through to the final.
The team have set themselves up to be the most sustainable sports team in the world, creating an academy, from which 22-year-old Neil Hunter has already graduated, and a charity, the 1851 Trust with The Duchess of Cambridge as its royal patron, supporting education and careers in science, technology and engineering.
Ainslie was part of a multinational US crew that staged one of the greatest sporting comebacks in memory to win four years ago in San Francisco.
But this challenge can certainly be stamped with ‘Made in Britain’.
“We’re about highlighting British sailing and the very best of British technology and that’s important for the identity of the team,” adds Ainslie.
“I’m lucky to have a fantastic team around me and my management style is to get the right people and give them space to make the right decisions.”It’s 34 years since Australia II ended the longest running winning streak in sporting history, wrestling the cup from the control of the New York Yacht Club for the first time in 132 years.
That day, Bob Hawke, the country’s prime minister, earned his place in the history by saying any employer who sacked a staff member who skipped work on such a day of national festivity was a ‘bum’.
Ainslie knows the America’s Cup remains a last unscaled sporting summit – and knows success would transcend his sport. The idea of a nation stopping to watch a sailboat race is far from a far-fetched fantasy.
“I, more than anyone, know the significance of this event for our sporting and maritime history,” he adds.
“If this team wasn’t successful then I’m very confident we will get the job done at some point in the near future.”
Time will tell but time is waiting for no-one.
By James Toney, Sportsbeat