Imagine that you’re an aspiring Formula One driver. You start young and learn the basics in go-karts. You grow up watching all the drivers on TV and at your local track. You befriend race mechanics, and learn the ins and outs of the cars. You maintain a meticulous physical fitness regimen.

But it doesn’t matter, because no one is going to walk up to a 20 year old Formula One hopeful at the stock car circuit, hand over the keys to their car, and then say, “Put together a crew of your five best friends and take three weeks to learn how to drive this thing. Then we’re throwing you into a circuit against all of the best racers in your age group. And by the way, all of your professional heroes will be watching.”


Oracle, foiling upwind?

That’s what’s happening right now in San Francisco, where 10 teams are training to compete in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in AC45s, boats that were developed not as junior trainers, but to sharpen professional America’s Cup sailors for the larger 72s. And now the irony is that they’re more exciting to watch fleet race than the actual America’s Cup yachts.

We’re watching the AC teams, too. We even asked Ben Ainslie if Oracle was foiling upwind, after seeing it on video. Here’s how he answered.

An AC45 is capable of sailing 30 knots; that’s 34.5 mph. But hitting a groove at half that speed requires expert, precision choreography and physical fitness from all six team members. Everyone leaves the boat wet and exhausted.

It is also the first time in the 162 year history of the America’s Cup that aspiring sailors will have the chance to secure a direct route to race in the actual America’s Cup, without the traditional hassle of knowing the right guy or having the right last name. Imagine that.

So even for the last place team, the experience of learning and racing an AC45 will be the ultimate consolation prize. What would you give for a single lap around Monza?

Read Digital Vagabond's introduction to the Red Bull Youth America's Cup:

Digital Vagabond: The Red Bull Youth America's Cup