- Ben Ainslie in win or bust weekend at Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth
SailGP commentary pundits are divided on whether Ainslie’s SailGP Team will need to drop the softly, softly approach it has taken so far this season, and return to a more aggressive start line technique if they are to claim an event win in Plymouth this weekend.
Ainslie has only managed to win one SailGP event in nine event starts – over a year ago in Bermuda – and trails Tom Slingsby and the Australia team with 11 wins, and Nathan Outteridge helming the Japan team with three wins.
Ainslie has taken a less aggressive approach this season which has resulted in second and third place finishes in Bermuda and Chicago and currently sits in joint second place overall, tied with Canada.
Now at his home-waters Grand Prix in Plymouth he has the chance to record a first home British GP win and break Slingsby’s five-event win run.
Not only would it be good for Ainslie and the British team it would rejuvenate a SailGP circuit where the clutch of new teams have yet to get to grips with the tricky foiling multihulls.
“I think he really needs to beat Tom Slingsby,” said Stevie Morrison, “he hasn’t won against Australia since Bermuda in Season 2 so it’s starting to be a long time between meals”.
Todd Harris predicted that Ainslie will be ‘more aggressive’ in Plymouth, risking his more considered racing strategy seen in Bermuda and Chicago.
“He’s got to protect home waters,” Harris said. “I think in Plymouth he will want to take a chance – everyone will be wanting to see Sir Ben in action and if you’re a Sir with five Olympic medals, you better bring it.”
Meanwhile Emily Nagel, who has sailed extensively in Plymouth, said the key would be to secure an aggressive start off the line.
“Plymouth is a small and shifty racecourse, and you need to come off the line in an aggressive manner and get to mark one first,” she said. “There’s not a lot of room behind the starting box so the teams that come out all gun’s blazing are going to be strong.”
This ‘risk and reward’ approach, previously used by Ainslie in both SailGP and the America’s Cup events of 2015 and 2016 series racing, led to a number of controversial incidents in SailGP season 2.
Culminating with Ainslie having to lend his F50 to Nathan Outteridge after damaging the Japan team boat, and led to the events penalty points system being revamped to prevent future hull damage and possible crew injury.
Freddie Carr, who recently re-signed with Ainslie’s INEOS Britannia for his third consecutive campaign with the British Challenger, disagreed that there will be any pressure on Ainslie’s team to perform in front of the home crowd.
He expected the team to do well, but that they would not be heaping pressure on themselves just because they’re sailing in Plymouth.
That may be an insider’s considered race-box point of view, but with a bumper crowd expected to watch the racing from Plymouth Hoe, looking for a British win, the heat of the moment could fire up the famous Ainslie ‘win at all costs’ attitude and all bets are off.
As Ainslie admits . . . ‘it’s ‘quite difficult’ to ‘go back over 20+ years of racing experience’ to make ‘a fundamental shift in your approach’ adding “You don’t get many opportunities to race at home at this sort of level and it’s extra special to race in front of a home crowd.”
While getting into that end of season $1,000,000 final race off and ultimately winning that is the overall target . . . In Plymouth this weekend getting to the three boat match race final, dominated by Tom Slingsby’s Australia in Chicago and Bermuda, and finally getting a SailGP win on home-waters will be the target.