This week sees some of the world’s most competitive sailors — and wealthiest backers — battling to claim the America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in professional sport. Among the teams battling to take the cup from tech tycoon Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA is Land Rover BAR, a collaboration between the carmaker and champion Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ainslie.
America’s Cup boats are the fastest sailing vessels on the planet, reaching speeds of up to 90 km/h. This remarkable feat is made possible by hydrofoils that lift the boats out of the water, essentially allowing them to fly over the waves without touching them.
Land Rover BAR skipper Sir Ben Ainslie won his first Olympic sailing medal at the age of 19. He went on to win golds at the next four consecutive games, making him the most successful Olympic sailor of all time. In 2013 he won the America’s Cup for Oracle Team USA, the sport’s reigning champions, before launching his own team with Land Rover in 2015.
Each America’s Cup team consists of six sailors, including a skipper, a tactician, sail trimmers and grinders. America’s Cup boats are powered entirely by wind and muscle, and the grinders provide the latter, pumping the hydraulics that lift the boat out of the water.
America’s Cup boats are as high-tech as Formula 1 cars, with each team working around the clock to develop race-winning technologies and tweaks. Land Rover BAR relies on complex computer modelling—a system that logs 189 million data points each time the boat hits the water—to optimize aerodynamics and efficiency.
Land Rover spent $90 million on the two-year campaign leading up to the America’s Cup in Bermuda. Among their innovations is the steering wheel on the BAR boat, which took 18 months to design and fabricate. The ship’s wheel is crafted out of carbon fibre, with a set of paddles controlling the hydrofoils molded to fit the skipper’s hands.