WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The tension on the first day of the America’s Cup challengers series Friday will center on the performance of the British team that has been beset by technical difficulties and has been almost powerless in light winds.
During the America’s Cup World Series prior to Christmas, INEOS Team UK was forced to withdraw from one race and was beaten by staggering margins in others because of its inability to handle light winds.
Team UK has been working since the World Series ended on Dec. 20 to overcome the problems.
British skipper, multiple Olympic sailing medalist Ben Ainslee, said every aspect of the team’s performance has been put under the microscope ahead of Friday’s start to the Prada Cup challengers series.
Team UK will race United States challenger American Magic in the first race of the series. The three challengers — including Luna Rossa of Italy — are competing to face defending champion Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup match from March 6.
“Our team has justifiably taken quite a lot of flak for our performance and it’s my job to protect them from that,” Ainslee said. “I think we’ve improved a lot from where we were in light airs. Have we improved enough? Time will tell in the next couple of days.”
Ainslee said the changes have been “predominantly focused on the lighter airs but across the wind range where we felt we were struggling with the performance.”
All three challengers have been working to improve their performance in the weeks since the World Series.
“Our development started the Monday after the World Series event and really has continued on through until yesterday,” American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson said. “As all three of us (skippers) sit here our major work starts tomorrow with our win and loss sheet.”
Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said the challengers ultimately will be measured by the performance against Team New Zealand. Sirena previously has said Team New Zealand will be almost impossible to beat.
“I really believe it’s going to be hard to beat them,” he said. “They’ve showed they have a fast boat, a very good crew.”
Racing in the challenger series will take place from Friday to Sunday over the next five weeks. The forecast for the coming weekend is for moderate winds Friday, light winds Saturday and return to moderate conditions Sunday.
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