Yachting: Dalton backs Ainslie move

By Julie Ash

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton is miffed by suggestions that double Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie is unhappy with his role in the syndicate.

Ainslie has chosen to forfeit his position as strategist on the race boat in favour of developing his skills as a helmsman on the B boat - a position he shares with New Zealander Kelvin Harrap.

It is a move that seems to have surprised some sectors of the British media, who are now sceptical about whether Ainslie is happy at Team New Zealand.

It has even been implied that he may now wish he had followed the same path as his good mate Iain Percy, who is the skipper and helmsman of the low-budget and less-fancied Italian syndicate +39.

"The slant that the English media put on it is that Ben is somehow a victim. The fact is that it couldn't be more the opposite," Dalton said.

"I have a good relationship with Ben, we talk pretty straight with each other. Ben is following the path that he wants to follow. He has been given an immense opportunity here to be paid by us to become a top-line match racer.

"I note with interest the comment about Iain Percy skippering +39 and I use the analogy of Formula One, where it is best to be Minardi's driver or Pedro de La Rosa, who was cast into McLaren's A seat following an injury to their top driver Juan Pablo Montoya.

"Where would you rather be?

"That is the call Ben made when he joined here."

Ainslie filled the strategist's role on the race boat in last year's regattas in Europe. However, he has always made it clear that it is his ambition to helm a cup boat.

"He had to make a choice, he can't be both," Dalton said. "He wants to be a helmsman and I am happy to give him that shot. He wants to be a driver and Dean [Barker] is the number one driver.

"If Ben continues down the helming line he won't be on the race boat in 2007 unless something happens to Dean or Dean's form falls right away."

That is something Ainslie has always been aware of.

Ainslie, who won the Finn class at last year's Olympics, is regarded as one of the best natural talents in the sailing world.

But he is new to match racing and has a significant way to go before he reaches the standard of Barker, who steered the syndicate to success in last year's Cup pre-regattas in Europe and last month knocked off a star-studded field, including match racing guru Russell Coutts, to win the Congressional Cup.

Ainslie, Barker and Harrap will all skipper Team New Zealand crews on the match racing circuit this year.

"We are putting a huge investment in Ben in terms of him being on the circuit doing something like eight regattas this year with an Emirates Team New Zealand crew to enhance his ability as a match racer," Dalton said.

"It would be ridiculous for us to go into the next Cup with no one that could take over if something happened to Dean. Ben is completely happy with all of this."

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