Defending champions Oracle Team USA will have to be wary of the challenge posed by home favourite Sir Ben Ainslie as they begin their bid to retain the auld mug this weekend.
That’s the view of Oracle trimmer Kinley Fowler as he prepares for an America’s Cup collision course with his former team-mate.
Ainslie, whose Land Rover BAR team is based in Old Portsmouth, was a key member of the team onboard Oracle Team USA – with skipper Jimmy Spithill and sailing team manager Tom Slingsby – when they won the 34th America’s Cup in 2013.
The Americans staged a phenomenal comeback from 8-1 down to win 9-8 against Emirates Team New Zealand.
This time out, though, Ainslie will be on a rival boat as sailing’s most prestigious event returns to the Solent for the first time since the inaugural event in 1851.
And Fowler is in no doubt as to the threat posed by the 38-year-old’s newly-formed team in the opening event of the 2017 America’s Cup World Series, which culminates in Bermuda.
He said: ‘Ben (Ainslie) knows our team inside out but we know him pretty well, too.
‘I know he’s a fierce competitor and I love going head-to-head with him on the water.
‘It’s always great to race Ben because you know you’re racing the best in the world when you’re on the course with him.’
While Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR team are favourites for glory in Fowler’s eyes, he is certainly not taking any of his other competitors lightly.
That’s just as well, with six teams all packed with the best sailors in the world vying for the right to take on the ‘Defender’ Oracle Team USA for the America’s Cup title in Bermuda in two years.
‘I think Ben’s definitely the favourite, in my eyes,’ said Fowler.
‘They’ve been training here and on boats very similar to this, so should be a fair bit faster and get around the course a bit better than others.
‘But we’ve been sailing non-stop, along with Artemis Racing, in foiling boats back in Bermuda, so I don’t think we can count either of us out.
‘The French team (Groupama Team France) is very strong and the Japanese team (Softbank Team Japan) have put together a team which is one of the top three in my mind. There are no weak spots in this fleet.’
As Defender, Oracle Team USA have been a driving force in moving the America’s Cup World Series races to foiling AC45s and Fowler is looking forward to the first fleet races in the high-flying catamarans.
He added: ‘We’ve wanted to fleet race in foiling boats since we started foiling, so it’s exciting that it’s going to happen here.’
Today sees exhibition sailing by the teams, along with moth racing and kitesurfing shows.