There was a time when the oldest trophy in sports — the America’s Cup – was truly a sailing race against nations. Countries sent off their best sailors from their best yacht clubs to battle on the trade winds.
These days, that nationalistic theme is largely watered down with the countries participating recruiting captains and crews from other parts of the world, while international sponsors lend their money and resources to far-flung teams.
The main exception to this corporate-driven, cross-border diversification of the America’s Cup is the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing Team out of the UK. The titular Olympic hero for Team GB led the U.S. team to the biggest comeback in sports history during the last America’s Cup, but he’s come home to lead this year’s bid. In addition, Land Rover BAR is the only team made up entirely of crew from its home turf. (For the record, the USA’s Team Oracle is predominantly Australian.)
In keeping with the 100% John Bull, “stiff upper lip” effort, the proud UK brand Land Rover lends its financial and technical support to the team. At its cutting edge, seaside Bermuda research facility and workshop, the UK team pours over mechanical and engineering details of their America’s Cup racer as competition continues in the Caribbean.
While there are Land Rover touches all over the UK boat, the most prominent component from the automaker is the steering wheel Sir Ben Ainslie will control in every race. The Jaguar Land Rover boffins designed a new bespoke steering wheel with gear shift paddles cast in the shape of Ainslie’s fingers for a snug fit when flying along the waves at 60 mph with another boat nipping aft at his stern.
Since the UK originally challenged for the first trophy but never won it in its history, Ainslie and his crew are taking this effort for the 35th America’s Cup seriously.
“When the opportunity came up to assemble my own team, I put all of my focus on building the right team together,” Ainslie said. “I try to get good people and delegate to let them function in their roles.”
“Having Land Rover with us as a great British brand was essential in this £90 million effort.”
Ainslie explained that the nature of the model America’s Cup series makes Land Rover’s technological input essential. The sport is changing with all teams sticking to the same class rules, so they now need to throw the old technology out after each biannual race.
“This Cup is going to be very close,” Ainslie added. “Each team here is dominant to an extent for different phases of these races. We’re all going to have to deal with close racing and be able to handle racing from behind.”