Ben Ainslie is all smiles after a storming start to his 2021 America’s Cup challenge in New Zealand
By James Toney
Sir Ben Ainslie knows the importance of timing and he got his spot on as his Great Britain team flew out of the blocks at the America’s Cup.
Since arriving in Auckland, Ineos Team UK haven’t been able to buy a win but they started their challenge in the Prada Cup, a three-boat challenger series for the right to take on defending champions Team New Zealand, in storming style.
With four-time Olympic champion Ainslie at the helm and defending Olympic champion Giles Scott calling the tactics, the British boat didn’t just beat challengers American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli – they crushed them.
Their boat Britannia, seemingly sluggish in recent weeks, just flew – rising through above the waters and soaring to new heights, as they hit speeds of 40 knots.
This is drag racing on water and fans of that sport will be aware of the term ‘sandbagging’ – which sees drivers deliberately underperform only to suddenly surge through the field when it matters.
They can be no doubt that the British crew’s problems of recent weeks were genuine but the manner of these opening wins underlines it pays never to underestimate Ainslie, whose turnaround has been assisted with the support of F1 technicians at Mercedes GP.
Christmas was certainly cancelled as Ainslie ordered a radical overhaul to his boat, the lights in the British team shed always last to turn off as they raced against time to be competitive.
“It feels a lot better than six losses or whatever it was. We left it a bit late, nice to find the pace when it counts,” said Ainslie.
“Giles did a great job calling the breeze and the guys sailing it fast and handling it. It was a team effort and I have got to say our entire team back on the dockyards, the designers, the engineers, the shore team, the boat builders, they had three epic weeks working to turn this boat around.
“This is for them but I said to the boys we are long way out of the woods yet, it’s a couple of good races. It’s time to make the most of the momentum now.
“The whole boat has had a makeover, we’ve pretty much changed everything we could and have worked around the clock to make this happen. There is still a lot of work to do, especially to get the maximum out of this boat in lighter wind conditions.
“It’s a good start but there is a long way to go.”
The three challengers will race each other four times over the next two weeks with the top team then progressing to the best-of-13 Prada Cup final, for the right to take on the defending champions and hosts for the oldest trophy in international sports. The remaining two boats will race off for the chance to face them.