Great expectations – dashed

Land Rover BAR, led by Sir Ben Ainslie, the best Olympic sailor in history, has sailed its last race in the 35th America’s Cup.

Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling sailed his newly rebuilt black and red flying machine to two wins in three starts on Thursday, to push Ainslie out of the Cup by a 5-2 scoreline.

Despite a brave effort, the loss doesn’t come as a massive surprise.

Ainslie acknowledged shortly after arriving in Bermuda this winter and lining up against the likes of Artemis Racing, SoftBank Team Japan and ORACLE TEAM USA that his team was struggling for pace.

They’ve been trying to catch up ever since and have made great strides. But the goalposts keep moving. They weren’t the only team improving.

Ainslie has built this project from the ground up, engineered strong funding and support from all across Britain, hiring experienced sailors, designers, and managers, and molding them into one of the most professional outfits seen in the long history of the America’s Cup. History tells us though, it is incredibly hard to win at the first attempt.

Land Rover BAR: 35th America's Cup - Challenger Highlights

It looked very promising to start with. In the Louise Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, Ainslie beat them all, coming out on top and showing the world he was once more a force to be reckoned with.

However in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers, Ainslie won 4 of 10 races.

Ainslie was a beast on the starting line and the team appeared to take a couple of races by sheer force of will. But a boatspeed deficit limits your options on the race course. Eventually, the faster boat wins.

It was a similar story over the past few days in the semi finals of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs. The first day was a disaster for the British. Chasing down the Kiwis in the first race, Ainslie’s crew broke a crucial control arm in their wingsail. They couldn’t switch out to a back-up in time and dropped the first two races, it was desperate luck for a team that needed everything to go right against the powerful Kiwis.

After winning the starting line duel in very strong conditions on Tuesday, Ainslie could only watch as the faster New Zealand boat sailed past.

In the next race, Ainslie got a point on the board when the Kiwis capsized in spectacular fashion. Ainslie had put the Burling in a vulnerable position in the pre-start and sailed across the line with the lead. As the Kiwis attempted to follow, the boat pitched-poled, bows in the water, stern in the air, and the race was awarded to Ainslie.

On Thursday, Ainslie again led off the line in the first match of the day, after a problem on board saw Burling starting very late and trailing by 26-seconds at mark one. But even a big head start wasn't enough. The Kiwis, simply faster, just raced around Ainslie for the win.

Facing match point, Ainslie and his team sailed perhaps their best race of the summer, delivering magnificently under incredible pressure. Ainslie, relying on a lifetime of racing nous, put together a perfect race and held off the faster Kiwis.

Once again British hopes were raised that perhaps they could extend the series through to tomorrow and prevail in what is forecast to be much stronger winds.

But in what would be the last race of the series, Pistol ‘Pete’ Burling led by a significant margin off the starting line and sailed into the finals. Ainslie’s campaign to #bringthecuphome is over - for now.

“I’m really proud of the way we sailed today and our approach to the whole series,” Ainslie said from the boat after the last race.

“We struggled with a lack of speed and our whole team has just dug so deep to get us more competitive…

“I’m very proud and want to say a big thank you to everyone in Britain who has supported us,” he finished.

“We didn’t quite get there in time but not for lack of effort…

“We’ll be back,” he added.

@CupScribe