INEOS Britannia's Ben Ainslie steps down from SailGP helming role to focus on AC preparation
Replacing Ainslie as helmsman on the British SailGP catamaran is double Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott – head of sailing and co-helmsman at INEOS Britannia
Ben Ainslie, skipper and CEO of the British America’s Cup Challenger of Record INEOS Britannia and the Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team, has stepped down as helmsman of the UK SailGP team to focus his attention on the America’s Cup.
Replacing Ainslie as helmsman on the British F50 catamaran is double Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott, who is head of sailing and co-helmsman at INEOS Britannia.
Ainslie – who will continue as the SailGP team’s CEO in a non-sailing role – said the decision had been tough to make but was the correct move given as the British America’s Cup team ramps up preparations for the 37th America’s Cup beginning in August this year in Barcelona, Spain.
As well as an extensive development programme at the team’s base in Barcelona centred around its 40-foot LEQ12 test boat codenamed T6 and crew training aboard a pair of identical AC40s, the British challenger has its next generation AC75 foiling monohull under construction in the UK.
With just eight months to go to the start of racing in the Louis Vuitton Challenger Series Ainslie said the necessity for him to focus in on the America’s Cup was clear.
“I have had plenty going on in terms of commitments, both as a sailor and as a CEO of these two teams,” Ainslie said. “It’s been apparent to me for a while that ultimately I have been spread too thin.
“Our performance in SailGP has been OK – we have had our ups and downs but we’ve been performing pretty well – but clearly they weren't in the America's Cup.
“As we all know, things are hotting up in America's Cup world this year. Ultimately, leading a team that's trying to get an AC75 on the water, maximise its performance, and then get into the competition, I couldn’t see how I could manage to do that in parallel with the tight schedule we have got in SailGP for the rest of this year.”
Ainslie and Scott raced together as helmsman and tactician respectively at the 36th America’s Cup with Scott taking charge of the sailing team for the British challenge for the 37th edition and stepping into a dual helming role alongside Ainslie.
Scott will be at the helm of the British F50 foiling catamaran for the next SailGP event in Abu Dhabi over the weekend of January 13-14.
Meanwhile, Ainslie did not rule out the return of T6 – which has been off the water for a prolonged period after damage to the rudder support structure on the boat towards the end of last year – but said in the immediate future the INEOS Britannia sailors would be focused on honing their racing skills aboard their two AC40 one designs.
“You can never say never on T6 because there is always new stuff to test,” he commented. “But, at the moment, our focus is going to be on two-boat sailing on the AC40s and getting race sharp for the match racing element of the Cup.”
Ainslie said the new British AC75 is expected to be revealed ‘in the late spring / early summer’ of this year.
“It’s a big, big challenge to meet the deadlines and the targets for the build of the new boat. I've been in Brackley (head office of the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team) for the last couple of days with the team and we're heavily focused on that manufacturing process.
“Intense is the best way to describe it. The team is working really hard and there was a lot of work done over the Christmas period, so you have certainly got to take your hat off to everyone for pushing on through to keep us on target.”
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