Ainslie reveals concerns ahead of Prada Cup

Ineos races against Prada in pre-Christmas racing in Auckland. Photo: Getty Images
Ineos races against Prada in pre-Christmas racing in Auckland. Photo: Getty Images
Sir Ben Ainslie still has concerns about the competitiveness of Ineos Team UK – despite a staggering amount of changes and improvements undertaken across the last month.

On the eve of the Prada Cup, the British boat remains the major talking point, after their struggles in December's America's Cup World Series, where they were well behind the rest of the fleet.

The team's shore crew and engineers have worked tirelessly since then, but Ainslie gave no assurances that it would be enough to match American Magic and Luna Rossa.

"I think we can be competitive certainly in the medium to stronger wind range [but] the lighter airs we still don't know," said Ainslie. "We raced against Luna Rossa in some medium to light airs the other day. We were somewhat closer than where we were, but we are still making improvements every day so I guess time will tell."

But unlike his December demeanour, Ainslie was generally positive on Thursday – and that doesn't seem totally unfounded. The British may still be the underdogs, but they have made the most of the last 25 days, as Ainslie confirmed when he listed their achievements over that period.

"Since the World Series we have a new rudder, a new elevator, a new mast, a new mainsail, a new headsail, we have put aero modifications to the hull and we have changed the system to the hull… so we have been quite busy."

Ainslie paid credit to his team, many of whom haven't had a day off.

"Our engineers worked around the clock to action these changes, these upgrades to the boat, based on the lighter airs but across the wind range, where we were struggling with performance.

"Firstly [it was] identifying why that was and then trying to rectify that issue. We have come a long way down that road in terms of improvements, [but] there is still more to come. These other teams are improving every day, people are coming up with new upgrades and we are no different.

"We are excited to see how much of a jump we have made. How far up that ladder we come will be fascinating to see in the next few days."

A wider question is how the British got so much of the initial prognosis wrong – given their massive budget – but that is a topic for the end of campaign review.

For now, they can only focus on the next three days of round robin action.

"We would love to race in the stronger breezes, that is probably no secret, everyone can see that," said Ainslie. "The trick is we can't control the weather.

"It's a medium breeze for Friday, a bit lighter for Saturday and Sunday so we will see how much we have been able to improve that performance in the lighter airs over the weekend.

"We need to be competitive across the wind range and that is our goal. We have made some big jumps but still more to come in that area."

Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena emphasised that performance gains will be ongoing with the AC75s.

"In this campaign you can only develop one way," said Sirena. "You cannot think to stop to improve your boat until the end otherwise you will finish last."

Sirena confirmed that they planned to stick with their unique dual-helmsman mode until the end of the Prada Cup, adding that it was not something you could change "in a day".

American Magic were the most impressive of the challengers in December's World Series, but skipper Terry Hutchinson said that was only a platform to build on and they have been working on their weaknesses since then.

Regatta director Iain Murray expects 12-15 knots of wind on Friday, welcome news for Ineos Team UK, who have two races on the first day.

Murray also warned that Saturday's breeze could be "tricky" and predicted lighter winds over the weekend.

Friday's action begins with Ineos Team UK against American Magic (15.12), before the Italians take on the British.

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