America's Cup 2021: INEOS Team UK complete incredible comeback to sweep challenger rivals in opening round

British maestro Sir Ben Ainslie has shown why he's regarded as one of the world's greatest sailors, leading INEOS Team UK to victories over their America's Cup rivals on opening day of challenger racing off Auckland.    

Seemingly - and sometimes literally - dead in the water during the pre-Christmas world series, the Brits have completed an incredible comeback to put their opponents - including Emirates Team NZ - on notice that they are serious contenders to lift the 'Auld Mug' for the first time.

Drawn to face both NYYC American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli on day one of Prada Cup competition, Ainsle quickly dismissed any thoughts he was out of his depth, dispatching the challenger favourites by more than minute, then the Challengers of Record by 28 seconds.

The four-time Olympic champion showed his tactical prowess by winning both starts and dominating the favoured righthand side of the course, revelling in the shadow of Devonport's North Head.

Over the two races, he never trailled for a single second.

Manoeuvres that seemed out of reach three weeks ago were suddenly executed without hitch, leaving his rivals wondering whether Sir Ben just might have been bluffing previously.

None of this should have come as a huge surprise. Earlier this week, Team NZ boss Grant Dalton warned against dismissing the British and Ainslie detailed the myriad improvements his team had worked through the holidays to make on their boat Britannia.

Today, he dedicated his success to those watching from the team base.

"It feels a bit better than six losses or whatever it was," admitted Ainslie, after dispatching hometown boy and American Magic helmsman Dean Barker on his own backyard. "We left it a little bit late, but managed to find the pace when it counted... in this breeze.

"That race was for the rest of the team back at the dock - our designers, our engineers, our shore team, our boat builders. They've had an epic 2-3 weeks turning this boat around.

"I just said to the boys, we're a long way from out of the woods yet. That's just one good race, but it's a huge motivator for our team and hopefully we can continue that momentum now."

Team UK show American Magic a clean pair of heels
Team UK show American Magic a clean pair of heels. Photo credit: Photosport

Indeed they did, returning to the course to dispatch Aussie Jimmy Spithill and his Italian crew an hour later.

"The boat has had a makeover," says Ainslie. "There's not much we can do to the hull of the boat, but pretty much every other component on the boat, be it rig and sails, the rudder, the elevator, the foils, the systems how we control the boat... we've pretty much change everything.

"Again, that's credit to the shore team - those are the guys who have worked around the clock to make that happen. We're glad that we were able to do them credit out on the water."

The pressure now goes off Team UK and onto the Americans, who face a similar doubleheader on Saturday, still searching for their first point of the series. They were the only team to beat Team NZ in last month's world series, but now desperately need a win to keep morale intact.

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