Sir Ben Ainslie isn’t used to playing second fiddle to anyone, but it’s something he’s had to get used to while taking part in the globe-trotting Extreme Sailing Series.
The travelling high-speed catamaran circus touched down in Cardiff for the series’ UK instalment, and after four days of racing Britain’s most successful Olympic sailor may again find himself having to give best to another Hampshire star.
Over the past two seasons Leigh McMillan has been the man to beat at the helm of the ultra-fast Extreme 40 multihulls, which are raced close inshore at different venues around the world, and is now looking for a hat-trick of consecutive titles.
And having finished first and second in the Welsh capital in 2013 and 2012 respectively his rivals, Ainslie included, know The Wave, Muscat skipper will be no push-over.
‘Cardiff as a venue is tricky racing,’ says McMillan, from the Isle of Wight.
‘With big buildings all around the course the wind is a big challenge and I am sure this year it won’t fail to deliver an exciting event.’
Last year, 120,000 spectators lined Cardiff Bay to watch the action and McMillan, who competed at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, is looking forward to the attention.
‘Having a crowd while racing is a big buzz, and racing on a bank holiday will definitely provide an excellent atmosphere to raise the tempo on the racecourse – it should be a lot of fun.’
Racing with Warsash mainsail trimmer Pete Greenhalgh by his side, McMillan goes into the Cardiff regatta in second place in the overall standings.
After events in Singapore, Muscat, Qingdao and Saint Petersburg, The Wave, Muscat is on 35 points, just three behind leader Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi, but only three ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand helmed by Dean Barker, who had the America’s Cup snatched away from him by Ainslie and Oracle Team USA.
Ainslie’s JP Morgan BAR team, meanwhile, is down in sixth place in the 11-strong fleet with a regatta scoreline of 7-9-7 only slightly improved by a fourth in St Petersburg six weeks ago.
The yachtsman has, of course, had other matters competing for his attention, not least raising the finance for a proper tilt at the America’s Cup and securing permission to build his base in Portsmouth, and he has admitted the Extreme 40 series is not the top priority.
‘Of course it bothers us that we are not winning,’ he said.
‘We are competitive and want to be winning but we have to be looking at the bigger picture.
‘We need to be out here competing and we will be a better team for having competed on the Extreme circuit as we move forward to the America’s Cup.’
Also racing in Cardiff is Hamble’s Rob Greenhalgh, brother of Pete and the 2007 Extreme Sailing Series champion. He is at the helm of Oman Air.