(Reuters) – INEOS Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie said defending America’s Cup champions Team New Zealand (TNZ) are head and shoulders above the competition but expects the three challengers to up their game in the challenger series as they look to bridge the gap.
TNZ were dominant in last month’s World Series events, dropping just one race to American Magic en route to victory in the pre-Christmas regatta. The British challenge floundered, with Ainslie’s “Britannia” losing each of their races.
But the 43-year-old hopes his syndicate can improve heading into the Prada Cup challenger series, which begins on Jan. 15 and determines which team meets TNZ for the America’s Cup from March 6.
“I think you will see a lot of development across all three challengers through the Prada Cup,” Ainslie told the Shirley Robertson Sailing Podcast.
“Whoever gets through … we are really going to have to push hard for that challenge to be able to give the Kiwis a race because right now they are standing head and shoulders above the other three teams.
“We’ve really got to up our game to be competitive against them.”
INEOS Team UK floundered in light winds in the December regatta and Ainslie said it provided a good indication of the capabilities of the AC75 foiling monohull.
“We were fortunate to have that opportunity to highlight these issues though, frankly, we have been working on some for a long time,” he said.
“It takes a relatively small change to get a boost in performance and that’s what we are looking to do here.”
(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Robert Birsel)