Land Rover sets sail to the America’s Cup seeking new challenges

land rover bar americas cup yacht race open sail day  1 of louis vuitton america s world series toulon
Land Rover BAR

If you asked folks to pick one automaker as the world’s most adventurous brand, Land Rover would be the top choice for many. After all, Land Rover was the force behind the legendary Camel Trophy races of the 1980s and ’90s, taking teams to the most extreme locations on Earth and pitting them in a race where an entire day’s progress might measure less than five miles.

The Camel Trophy moved all over the world for 20 years, visiting places as diverse as Papua New Guinea, Zaire, Brazil, Madagascar, Siberia, Chile, and Mongolia. Wherever there’s a race that requires real “go-anywhere” capability, you’ll find Land Rovers driving and leading the pack.

But once you’ve crawled, scrambled, and winched yourself across every continent and island on Earth, what’s left? For Land Rover, it was time to get into the water, and into the toughest sailboat race ever devised: The America’s Cup.

Land Rover on Water

At first glance, it sounds crazy (and maybe it is) for Land Rover to think it could get into sailing and win. A modern competition sailboat seems to have nothing in common with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so what is Land Rover bringing to the table? And what can they possibly expect to get back out of the sport except its name on the side of the boat? Plenty, as it turns out.

Once you’ve crawled, scrambled, and winched yourself across every continent and island on Earth, what’s left?

First, Land Rover hired Martin Whitmarsh to be the CEO of the team. Whitmarsh comes to Land Rover from a nearly 20-year career at McLaren, including stints as Head of Operations and CEO of its racing division, so he knows a few things about racing and winning.

“It seems slightly odd to have the name Land Rover on the water, but in terms of customer participation it’s a core sport,” Whitmarsh told Digital Trends.”So getting to those customers where they have passion, it’s a high value relationship builder.”

But there’s more to Whitmarsh’s thinking than just good marketing. The foundation of the partnership is technology and innovation in pursuit of victory.

“A winning team has to have the quickest boat, and Land Rover brings that technological differentiation,” Whitmarsh says. “It’s not just about being a brand partner, it’s about being an innovation partner.”

The team is officially known as Land Rover BAR, for Ben Ainslie Racing. Sir Ben Ainslie is the skipper of “Rita” the new spec America’s Cup yacht, and his sailboat racing career is second to none. He started competing in the America’s Cup in 2002, and won the cup for Team Oracle USA on the last running in 2013. He has also claimed eleven world sailing championships and 4 gold medals at the Olympics.

land rover bar americas cup yacht race america s launch their acc and officially open the 11th hour exploration zone at in be
Skipper Sir Ben Ainslie, from left, and Land Rover BAR CEO Martin Whitmarsh speak at the unveiling event for Land Rover’s Rita, an America’s Cup Class yacht. Austin Wong / ACEA 2017

“The America’s Cup is one thing we’ve never won in British history,” Ainslie says, “and with our long maritime history, that’s a sore spot for British sailors.”

The Land Rover BAR partnership focuses on three areas where Land Rover’s skills can cross over to the sailing world.

“Primarily, it’s a technical partnership,” Whitmarsh tells Digital Trends. “And it’s really about three core areas. Aerodynamics being one, then the control systems that we use to power the boat around the course, and the efficiency systems.”

The flying boat

To work on aerodynamics, engineers from Jaguar Land Rover are working with the team to understand the way the boat moves through the water, and how to make it fly.

Here’s the thing: water is really dense. Up to 1,000 times more compact than air. So the fastest way for a boat to move through water is to get it out of the water and into the air. That’s why the wing-sail on an America’s Cup yacht is bigger than the wing of a Boeing 737; to provide enough energy to drive the boat forward and pick it up out of the water.

The real technical advancement is a thing called a daggerboard, which was originally a stabilizing device similar to a rudder. But in America’s Cup sailing, they made the daggerboards bend to create an underwater wing that will lift the boat’s hull entirely free of the water, so that it rides on four small hydrofoils.

What Land Rover is bringing to the party is its extensive experience with wind tunnel modeling and structural engineering, to help make the design of the daggerboards more efficient. With Land Rover’s resources, the turnaround time on new designs is greatly reduced, and the structural strength of the daggerboards can be enhanced.

Controlling the boat

Another area where Land Rover is bringing technical chops is in control systems. The days of America’s Cup sailors hauling on ropes to trim the sails are gone. To win the race, the Land Rover boat has to be able to make minute changes far more quickly than traditional sailing gear will allow. Land Rover’s expertise in automated feedback and control systems helps the team make split-second decisions and execute adjustments to keep the boat in optimum trim.

“It’s how we fly the boat,” Ainslie says. “Without getting too technical, it’s very difficult for a human mind to keep the boat foiling above water all the time. So, what areas are there for machines to help us with that?”

Deep analysis

Finally, Land Rover is bringing the ability to perform deep analysis of big data to the sailboat racing game. A Land Rover SUV logs over 5.8 million data points every day, pulled from over 3,000 data sources. The Land Rover BAR yacht has just 350 data sources, but the logging system monitors each of those points 500 times per second for 189 million data points collected on every test run.

“The human-machine interface is really kind of clever and futuristic. It’s asking how we can be smarter about how we sail these boats.”

“The human-machine interface is really kind of clever and futuristic,” Whitmarsh says. “It’s asking how we can be smarter about how we sail these boats.”
By analyzing the data and relating it back to design changes in the aero and control systems, the boat can gain about a half-knot to whole knot of straight-line speed. That may not sound like much, but in a racing series as closely matched as the America’s Cup, it’s enough to make a crucial difference. America’s Cup races are routinely won or lost by just a few seconds.

The data analysis facilitated by Land Rover allows the team to understand how to go fast in a straight line, and also when and how much to change the boat’s orientation to the wind. By combining fast data analysis with the experience of the skipper and the weather eye of the tactician, the team can optimize their performance and win the race.

Bringing it back to your next Land Rover

It’s very fun to talk about the fastest and most advanced sailboats in the world, and the similarity to auto racing is undeniable, but how does all this get back to the next Land Rover you’re going to drive?

Honestly, the connection is a little tenuous, but it’s there. We spent time with Ian Anderton, Thermal and Aerodynamics Manager for Jaguar Land Rover, and asked how any of this could possibly feed back into a car design.

land rover bar americas cup yacht race the
The LandRover BAR Race yacht “Rita” shown here being christened and launched today at the teams base in Bermuda. Lloyd Images

“We’re working with new materials and different engineering problems on the boat,” he explained. “We’re learning more about making things lightweight and incredibly strong at the same time. We take all that back with us and bring it to our regular work.”

The machine learning aspect of the America’s Cup effort also feeds back to the car business. More experience integrating and analyzing vehicle data will allow future vehicles to understand and work with the driver’s personal preferences, just as the boat learns to tailor itself to the skipper.

So while you might not be able to point to a wing or a daggerboard on a new Range Rover, you might read about an increase in chassis stiffness, or a new structural part made of carbon fiber that saves weight. And when your next Land Rover adapts itself to your driving style to maintain efficiency of performance and economy, there will be a little of the America’s Cup going on there. If nothing else, working on the America’s Cup racing yacht gives Land Rover engineers a chance to step out of their routine and think about new problems and new solutions. Plus, the whole thing is just unbelievably cool.

Product Review

AKG's signature studio sound goes straight to your head with these stunning cans

With gorgeous looks and great sound, AKG’s N700NC are a formidable entry into the wireless noise-canceling headphone race. We put them to the test to see if they can beat out the absolute best in the business.
News

World’s fastest electric race car to display at Petersen Museum

The Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak race car smashed the all-time record at the hill climb for which it was named. The all-electric VW record-holder will be on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles until February 1, 2019.
Cars

Nissan and Italdesign’s GT-R50 concept will become a $1.1 million reality

The Nissan GT-R50 is a customized sports car built to celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both the GT-R and design firm Italdesign. Underneath the sleek bodywork sits a 710-horsepower engine fortified with race car components.
Cars

Volkswagen may be planning a tougher challenge for its all-electric I.D. R

The Volkswagen I.D. R electric race car may head to the Nürburgring in 2019 for a lap-record attempt, according to a new report. Volkswagen will reportedly aim to set the quickest lap time ever by an electric car.
Cars

Pininfarina Battista is a 1,900-horsepower, 250-mph electric supercar

The Pininfarina Battista will be the first production car from famed Italian design firm Pininfarina. Named after company founder Battista Pininfarina, it has a claimed 1,900 horsepower and a $2.5 million price tag.
Cars

Tesla could show the electric pickup Elon Musk is dying to build in 2019

Tesla has started designing its long-promised pickup truck. The yet-unnamed model will come with dual-motor all-wheel drive and lots of torque, plus it will be able to park itself.
Cars

Allegro.ai is helping Hyundai mine the artificial intelligence gold rush

In November 2018, Hyundai invested in a startup named Allegro.ai. We talked to the company's founder to learn more about what that means for consumers in the not-too-distant futures.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.
Cars

Thinking of opting for a car with a diesel engine? Here's what you need to know

Modern diesel-powered models prove that it is possible to build a clean, efficient diesel engine without sacrificing performance. Here's what you need to know about diesel cars, and how they differ from gasoline-powered models.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Cars

These winter-warrior cars will never leave you out in the cold

Snow can be an absolute pain if your vehicle isn't optimized to handle that sort of terrain. If brutal snowstorms are an annual part of your life, we recommend you pick up one of these winter-ready vehicles.
Cars

2020 Toyota Supra caught hiding in a trailer without a shred of camouflage

Toyota's plan to once again lure enthusiasts into showrooms involves bringing back the Supra, one of its most emblematic nameplates. Here's what we know so far about the upcoming coupe, which Toyota is developing jointly with BMW.
Cars

NYC mandates minimum wage for Uber, Lyft, other app-based rideshare drivers

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission approved a rule that drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft must be paid at least minimum wage, even though they are independent contractors. The new pay rate includes operating costs.
Cars

LM Industries’ autonomous shuttles head to Phoenix, Sacramento campuses

LM Industries will deploy Olli low-speed autonomous shuttles at school campuses in Arizona and California as part of its ongoing "fleet challenge," which asks local groups to propose uses for autonomous vehicles.