America’s Cup 2021: How Ineos Team UK stunned the Prada Cup with two wins on day one

The corgi has turned into a greyhound.

That’s the stunning conclusion from the first day’s action of the Prada Cup, with Ineos Team UK completing a staggering turnaround to bank two shock wins on Friday.

They topped pre-regatta favourites American Magic by a comprehensive margin (1:20), then rounded out a perfect day with a 28-second win over Luna Rossa.

It’s something that no one would have predicted, after their awful performances and plethora of issues in December’s America’s Cup World Series.

Remember, they didn’t come close to winning a single contest back then and several times didn’t even finish the race. At times it was embarrassing; they couldn’t stay on their foils, couldn’t manoeuvre and they didn’t have the straight-line speed.

The British boat looked wobbly on every tack and mark rounding – like an elephant on roller blades – and the crew didn’t seem to trust their boat.

Some British media were saying they should pull the plug and go home, as the team with the biggest budget were floundering.

They were always going to be better in the Prada Cup – especially with the long list of alterations they have made – but this much progress was inconceivable.

Sure, the medium strength winds (10-12 knots) on Friday were ideal for the British, but their performances were flawless.

They got their tactics spot on – with tactician Giles Scott picking the wind shifts – and four-time Olympic champion Ainslie nailed both starts.

But what caught the eye was the smooth progress through the water; they were swift upwind, fast downwind and calm and confident with every transition.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but these results have enlivened the regatta.

“We left it a little bit late but nice to find the pace when it counts on time in this breeze,” said a relieved Ainslie. “I said to the boys we are a long way out of the woods just yet but this a huge motivator for our team. We need to make the most of that momentum now and keep moving forward.”

In the 25 days between the America’s Cup World Series and the Prada Cup, most of the Ineos team worked day and night, with their only break on Christmas day.

“I have to say, that was for the team back in the dock, our designers, our engineers, our shore team, our boat builders,” said Ainslie. “They have had an epic three weeks turning this boat around, so this is for them and our friends at Mercedes back in the UK that also helped us a lot to turn this thing around.”

The British revival was evident early in the first race. Ainslie wanted the right-hand side of the course and outwitted Dean Barker to win the start.

But would they have the speed to maintain it? They did, and their 11-second advantage at the first mark had extended to 19 seconds at the end of the first lap.

American Magic couldn’t make any inroads, not helped by a couple of messy mark roundings.

It was a surreal sight – at one stage the British led by almost a kilometre – before they crossed the finish line well ahead.

“The right-hand side was stronger,” said Ainslie. “Giles did a great job calling the breeze, the guys [sailed] the boat fast and the handling. It was a good team effort.”

Barker was circumspect.

“It was a pretty tough race, we got off the line in great shape and didn’t really expect it to be quite as big a difference at North Head,” said Barker.

“But clearly that gave the control to Ineos and they sailed a really good race.

“We knew going into today that they were going a lot better, from what we’d seen in the practice racing and while it may be a surprise for some, we definitely knew it was going to be pretty close.”

The second race was closer – as Luna Rossa hung tight – and the margin was only 13 seconds as the boats started the final leg.

But Ainslie had again proved better at the start – judging the time and distance superbly – and Ineos were good enough to maintain their advantage and made the most of the shifts.

The Italians tried everything, with some early tacks to break the pattern, but couldn’t make the most of their limited opportunities.

Luna Rossa face American Magic in the first race (3:15) on Saturday, with the United States team backing up against the British in the second.

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.

• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.

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