The BAR team

America's Cup 2017: BAR gets ready for early rounds

Land Rover BAR is all set to mount the British challenge for the America's Cup in 2017. However, for the Portsmouth-based company engineering development and preliminary racing are already well under way.

With the 35th America’s Cup now less than two years away, the pace is beginning to quicken as teams prepare to mount their challenge. The current phase of the build-up is a round of early yachting circuit race events - the America’s Cup World Series - hosted around the world by the nations of the competing teams. Challengers and the defender alike can accrue points that will be carried forward into the qualifiers in 2017. The main event is to be held in Bermuda in June of the same year.

The British challenge has been led by Ben Ainslie Racing until a new partnership (of which more later) led to its recent renaming as Land Rover BAR. In June this year the team’s Portsmouth home hosted a three day event attended by half a million yachting enthusiasts (with a similar event planned for July 2016). Team principal and skipper Sir Ben Ainslie - the world’s most successful Olympic sailor of all time with four gold medals - established the team in a bid to bring the ‘Auld Mug’ back to Britain for the first time in the competition’s 164-year history.

If Sir Ben is successful, it won’t be his first victory in the competition. In 2013, he became the first Briton to be in a winning America’s Cup team in more than a century, as part of Oracle Team USA. His role in what the Wall Street Journal called “one of the greatest comebacks in sports history” - overturning an 8:1 deficit to Emirates Team New Zealand - is legendary.

As might be expected for a competition so deeply entrenched in tradition, the America’s Cup is a never-ending drama that borders on soap opera. It is a competition where the winners literally make up the rules for the next encounter and where teams routinely withdraw in protest, amid protracted and undignified legal battles over the technical specifications of the vessels. (The document covering the technical rules for the build specification of the yacht even defines what dictionary will be used to settle disputes of word meaning within the document when they inevitably arise.)

As with F1, the America’s Cup is also a design engineering race and for all involved - including BAR’s newly signed CEO Martin Whitmarsh, who previously held the same job title at F1 team McLaren - the stakes couldn’t be higher. The America’s Cup provides a tremendous global stage for innovation in technology. According to Ainslie, the class of yacht competing for the cup in 2017 - the new foiling AC45s - will be “faster and even more exciting than the previous generation.” The legacy of the 2017 challenge will be the growth of the marine sector in the Solent area “to match the country’s F1 innovation hub.” UK Prime Minister David Cameron threw his weight behind the project, saying: “I hope the whole country can get behind Sir Ben’s campaign.”

British engineering

In June BAR confirmed that it was teaming up with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) as ‘title and exclusive innovation partner.’ The automotive manufacturer’s engineers and designers will work closely with what is now Land Rover BAR to provide what they are already describing in their publicity material as ‘race-winning technology.’ JLR will become a core member of the team’s Technical Innovation Group (TIG) chaired by PA Consulting’s Dr Phil White. BAR says that the group “will bring together the best of British design, technology and innovation to contribute to this unique technical and sporting challenge, with the ultimate aim of bringing the Cup home.’

Jaguar Land Rover’s Mark Cameron says: “Yes, we make cars, but we will make a real difference to the performance of the Land Rover BAR team and we will help create the fastest boat possible. We have a long history in sailing. This partnership has given us the opportunity to showcase our expertise in advanced engineering and innovative technologies.”

However, the America’s Cup is as much about traditional sailing skills as it is technology, something that the tournament’s regatta director Iain Murray is keen to point out. This is not least because the AC45 design includes several ‘one design’ components and is significantly smaller than the AC72s in the 34th tournament. This effectively levels the playing field for the entrants who, despite the huge costs involved, will be sailing in essentially the same craft. “You will see the competition come down more to the players than just the technology,” says Murray, although he predicts that the AC45 catamarans will provide entertainment every bit as spectacular as in previous competitions. Their speeds are predicted to match the AC72’s, in the region of 30 knots upwind and 40 knots downwind.

Innovation makes its mark on every aspect of designing a challenge for the America’s Cup. Apart from designing a boat fit to compete, BAR needed a modern headquarters and set about building a team base from the floor up for its 90 employees, with sustainability at its core. In partnership with renewable energy investment fund Low Carbon, BAR has built an energy-efficient home at Camber in Portsmouth. Construction, which finished this July, took less than a year. Sir Ben describes it as “the focal point for the design, construction and development of the team’s boats. It will also provide sports science and fitness facilities. An apprenticeship and training scheme will ensure the site is sustainable and there will be a drive to ensure the project acts as a catalyst to encourage participation in the sport of sailing, all areas of the marine industry and develop the talent of the future.”

CEO and co-founder of Low Carbon Roy Bedlow says that the partnership is helping to lead “the sporting world in sustainability. The partnership has supported the development of a high-performance, sustainable building that will leave a light environmental footprint.” One of the biggest architectural challenges, he says, was that of “maximising solar power production on the roof of the HQ, while ensuring that the solar panels and accompanying equipment were in keeping with the aesthetics of this iconic building. Low Carbon worked closely with the building architects to ensure the needs of the HQ as a sporting team base were balanced with the need to fit seamlessly into the local environment.”

As part of the team’s sustainability agenda, solar PV has been installed on the visitors’ floor; people will be able to get up close to see the panels in operation, while educational signage and interactive energy displays will drive home the message of why renewable energy generation is important.

However, for all the background stories there is only one real objective for Land Rover BAR, summed up in its Twitter hashtag ‘#bringthecuphome.’ Despite late rule changes that meant the engineering team had to quickly change from designing an AC62 to an AC54 vessel, Sir Ben remains convinced that, “they will still be spectacular boats, they will still fly out of the water on hydrofoils at phenomenal speeds, they will still be crewed by incredible athletes.” 

Image credits: Land Rover BAR

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