State of Play | Ben looks back at a big 12 months as T6 is revealed

State of Play | Ben looks back at a big 12 months as T6 is revealed 

It’s been 12 months since the Protocol for the America’s Cup was released to the world, this 86-page document sets the foundations and rules of participation for all teams in the 37th America’s Cup.

It would be something of an understatement to say that a lot has happened since that time INEOS Britannia, the British America’s Cup team. The team restructured in alignment with with Mercedes-AMG F1 Applied Science, a division of the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team. Design and operations moved to Brackley, the home of Mercedes F1, and the team built a temporary base operation in Palma for Winter Training Camp.

The Protocol was followed in the spring by Barcelona being announced as the venue for the 37th America’s Cup and the publication of the AC75 Class Rule and the AC37 Technical Regulations, within these regulations competing teams are allowed to build their own LEQ12, or ‘Length Equivalent 12metres, a type of boat which the rules allow, as test boats and research and development tools. Once the rules were in place, the playing field had been defined INEOS Britannia began to develop, design, and build a new test boat called T6 (short for Test boat 6)

Designing and building T6 wasn’t the only option. Emirates Team New Zealand have developed their own LEQ12, a one-design called the AC40. The first of these launched recently in Auckland where ETNZ have been putting it through its paces, with the second already on its way to INEOS Britannia, due at the start of November.

Ben Ainslie, INEOS Britannia CEO and Skipper, stands in front T6 in Palma de Mallorca, the team's base for their Winter Training Camp.
© C.GREGORY/INEOS BRITANNIA

So the first question to Ben had to be; why T6 and an AC40 – wouldn’t the latter have been enough?

“There are three key reasons why we built T6 and they're probably all equally valid. Firstly, we have this new partnership with Mercedes-AMG-F1 Applied Science. It’s a big deal trying to bring two design groups together and define common working practices and everything else that goes into designing a successful America's Cup boat. We had the opportunity to do a dry run with T6 before we design and build the race boat for the Cup, and it was really important to us to take that opportunity. It’s highlighted a number of areas where we've been able to modify our approach and the overall structure of the team for the better.

“Secondly, we came out of AC36 lacking confidence in our design tools. Ultimately, we made key design decisions in the last Cup using our design tools and our simulation, and they weren't accurate enough. This was borne out in the end result, across our hull, foil designs and performance. T6 is a fantastic opportunity for us to be able to validate our design tools and have more confidence in them, as we go into designing the key components for the race boat for Barcelona.

“Lastly, while it's fantastic to see Emirates Team New Zealand put out the AC40 -- and that boat will undoubtedly get a huge amount of use both as a testing platform and a racing platform -- we wanted to control our own destiny. We wanted full control over our own testing platform and not be reliant on a third party to provide that platform, so we had control over our testing strategy.”

The early testing with T6 is going to include what will seem a lot of towing and not much sailing, but the America’s Cup is a sailboat race – so what’s that about?

“We have a long list of tow tests that we want to do to validate the information from our design tools. The best way to do that is without the variability in the wind, we don’t want unknown aerodynamic influence on what we are measuring. As we all know, the wind at different heights in the rig is very hard to measure accurately, and therefore hard to model accurately. So we want to take that uncertainty out of our initial testing program with T6, so we can be more accurate in the  performance data that we will collect, and in the validation of the design tools with that data.

“The validation of these tools is really key at this stage. We’ve seen a big step in America's Cup simulation tools, they enable us to try so many more variations of design philosophy and options than ever before, which is fantastic. However, you have to have really strong confidence in those simulation tools, and trust that they're actually giving you accurate feedback. All of the teams know this and try and do the best job they can to create the most accurate tools, which will then help them design the fastest boat.

“Dan Bernasconi (ETNZ’s Technical Director) was, to his credit, one of the first people who saw this shift in computer simulation tools. He came from an F1 background into Emirates Team New Zealand, and they've been at the forefront of this for the last 15 years. It’s no coincidence that they’ve sat at the top end of the America's Cup sport for so long, and particularly over that period.”

The new emphasis on modelling and simulation means that the testing of ideas in the America’s Cup has changed dramatically since the days of the IACC class, when hulls, keels and rudders were tested in tanks, the sails in wind tunnels and both of those and everything else were also done full size with two boats. All of these things are now banned, but the need to work out which ideas are going to provide a performance advantage has not gone away. These days almost all of that work happens in the computer.

“That’s why the validation is going to be really key, which is something that ultimately has let us down in the last two campaigns. And Barcelona is a different venue to previous recent America’s Cups. There's more of a seaway, so understanding how that might impact the predictions of our tools is also key. There are also strict restrictions on the number of components that we can test and it’s really important to build the right ones, so again, the ability to get really good predictions of performance from the modelling is key.”

A significant amount of the resource and expertise in this area has come from Mercedes F1 and is an indication of the commitment of everyone to the project.

“We are one team as INEOS Britannia, but we are bringing the worlds of America’s Cup and Mercedes F1 together to create this team. It's a massive investment from both parties, we genuinely want to build for the long term.”

And of course, this is matched by the substantial commitment and support from INEOS, as Ainslie explains.

“INEOS has been phenomenally successful as a business at just about 25 years old. It's clear that the grit and rigor you see across all their businesses is key to their success. It definitely rubs off on those of us that work with them. And being able to tap into the wider INEOS sports group, all of those sports teams that are involved have been hugely successful and can offer so much. It’s an incredible opportunity for us.

Three campaigns in and still 100% committed to bringing the Auld Mug back home to where it first started, Ben and the British team know the challenge ahead will not be easy.

“This is definitely the challenge of a lifetime. We're committed to getting the job done, it's totally all consuming. On a number of fronts; the intensity, the technical challenge, the resources that are required, it never stops.