Nothing motivates Sir Ben Ainslie more than the challenge of winning the America's Cup in New Zealand waters. The decorated Olympic sailor is a key cog heading up the British INEOS Team UK challenge, motivated by his desire to win the Auld Mug for Britain for the first time.
Speaking to the Herald from his base in Portsmouth, Ainslie admitted the Covid-19 situation had made for a challenging time for the team which will dispatch its first bunch of personnel to Auckland next month now they've been granted an exemption to enter the country from the New Zealand government.
Ainslie, the syndicate's skipper confirmed they will be fully operational in Auckland with their first boat in the water in September, more than a month after rivals American Magic who plan to be sailing on the Waitemata and Hauraki Gulf next month.
The American challenge's helmsman Kiwi Dean Barker has just arrived in Auckland with his family to begin their 14 days quarantine with their first boat due to arrive in Port before the end of the month.
Ainslie is the most successful Olympic sailor in the history of the sport with four gold medals and a silver between 1996 and 2012. But you sense winning the America's Cup for Britain in New Zealand would eclipse those achievements for the 43-year-old.
"Beating you Kiwis on home water, it doesn't get tougher that that." Ainslie said.
"The thing with the America's Cup in Britain is of course we've never won the thing. It started off we invented it. We are quite good at that, inventing sports and never actually dominating them. So, this is one thing we have never won, and we need to sort that out. We are obviously, as New Zealand is, an island nation with a very proud maritime heritage, so that would be a big deal and what motivates me and the team to eventually get the Cup home and I am sorry to say we will be down there gunning for it."
Ainslie revels in the passion Kiwis have for sailing and thinks that will be a special aspect of the 36th America's Cup next summer.
"It always amazed me how passionate Kiwis are about this sailing and rightly so because you've got a huge history in the Cup and having those home supporters out, rightly supporting the home team," he said. "We don't expect we'll get any free rides there but you need that support to be somewhere where you know the home crowd is passionate about that sport and that means a lot to you as a competitor even if you are going up against that support that atmosphere is what you are after and I have no doubt it will be phenomenal in Auckland next year."
Ainslie who was part of the Oracle team that defended the Cup in 2013 in San Francisco and four years later led the unsuccessful BAR British challenge in Bermuda, feels Team New Zealand has a significant advantage over the challengers.
"If you look at the history of the Cup, the defender always has a jump start on its competition. The Italians and New Zealand team writing the new class rule, that was a clear advantage given the fact we haven't been able to race in the build up again really sticks the cards in New Zealand's favor so we are under no illusions that we are up against it."
However, Ainslie who was part of Team New Zealand's 2007 America's Cup campaign along with American Magic CEO and skipper Terry Hutchinson, is optimistic the Brits will catch up and mount a formidable challenge.
"The Cup we've seen certainly throws up its upsets. It's a huge challenge on and off the water and if you've got a team that can react well and develop fast you are always in with a shout and so that's really our approach to the game," Ainslie said.
Of the contenders Ainslie felt the Italian Luna Rossa Challenge had probably coped best with the Covid-19 lockdown situation.
"Every team has been impacted in different ways. We only got back on the water in the last couple of weeks after being unable to sail for three months," Ainslie said.
"Team New Zealand had their boat on a ship basically doing a lap of the globe and it never went in the water which was a nightmare from their perspective while we were training in Cagliari. It was going well, and we were looking forward to the regatta there and it was cancelled, and we had to bring the team back to the UK. The American team have had their issues and as for the Italians you know as luck would have it not having to go through any shipping or too many distractions in their training times in terms of staying on the water, have come out best out of this whole thing."
Ainslie is looking forward to relocating down to Auckland with his family in a couple of months and is in awe of New Zealand being able to eliminate the coronavirus.
"Yeah I think the rest of the world is looking at New Zealand with admiration and the way they have dealt with the crisis and seemingly coming out the other side and getting things back to normal as normal as it can be in this new reality.
"We are looking forward to being in New Zealand of course we all have families that we want to make sure they're safe and I don't think there is any question that we would even come to NZ if we couldn't be working in a safe environment. Then from a competitive standpoint getting out on Auckland harbor getting ready and used to the race conditions is invaluable time that we will need to catch up with the local team."
While the cancellation of the America's Cup World Series regattas in Cagliari and Portsmouth has been a blow with no competitive racing between the teams now scheduled before December's third regatta in Auckland, Ainslie sees similarities with San Francisco in 2013.
"There were issues in the buildup to that Cup. There wasn't really any competition in the buildup. We knew the Kiwis were going well in practice but no one really knew until we lined up through the Challenger Series and into the Cup itself and it was a new class of boat like we have now with the AC 75. So, someone will get a jump and it will be up to the other teams to see how quickly they can catch up and maybe surpass. So those teams that are able to develop fast and have flexibility will do well next year."
Ainslie revealed there is still some uncertainties over key elements of the control of the boat that the syndicates are waiting to see how that will be monitored.
"There is some key information that we are waiting for to know how we can control the boat. As and when we get that is going to be a key period for all the teams as to how you develop and how you react to that, those restrictions really. All the teams are going to be flat out getting as much time in the water as possible and monitoring each other to see who potentially has got a jump."