America's Cup 2021: America's Cup rivals not surprised by INEOS Team UK improvements

If the storyline of the opening day of America's Cup challenger racing was the remarkable improvements made by INEOS Team UK, they came as no surprise to their rivals.  

The vast enhancements may have shocked onlookers, but neither Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and NYYC American Magic were among them, insisting they never doubted their opponents.

"We expected them to be competitive, to be tough," says Luna Rossa helmsmen Jimmy Spithill. "We never underestimated them at all, regardless of what happened previously."

American Magic team skipper Terry Hutchinson adds: "I agree, I'm not surprised by their improvements."

With the incredible performance, Sir Ben Ainslie and his crew have gone from long-shot outsiders to arguable favourites in the battle to find a team capable of lifting the 'Auld Mug' off Emirates Team NZ. 

"I think clearly the landscape has changed," Spithill says. "We said a few days ago that Ben and his guys had made a big step up. 

"You look at the Christmas race, there was a lot of issues and they struggled to get around the race track."   

After looking more like a paper plane on the water in the Christmas regatta, Ainslie's team destroyed their rivals, which lifted a big weight off the skipper's shoulders.  

"Relief I think is the over-riding emotion," he says. "It's been a tough old ride for the team, but I couldn't be more proud of the group we've got."

Team UK's improvements haven't been seen since Oracle Team USA's remarkable turnaround off San Francisco in 2013. 

"We are certainly a good 10 percent faster in those conditions through the changes we made," Ainslie says.

Even though Team UK were well off the pace in the pre-Christmas world series, Ainslie knew improvements could be made quickly.

"We were delighted with the turnaround," Ainslie says. "Jimmy [Spithill] and I were together in 2013, and we both know how quickly things can turn around - it doesn't necessarily take that much. 

"It's a few small tweaks that can get the whole package going and the boat gets powered up, and the boat gets better and better. 

But Ainslie isn't getting carried away with the Prada Cup continuing for six weeks. 

"This is far from over," he says. "Whilst we've won a couple of races, this is just the beginning and we have a long road ahead of us, so we have to keep our heads down and keep on that journey." 

Joins us at 3pm on Saturday for live updates of the America's Cup challenger series.