America's Cup 2021: Team UK skipper Sir Ben Ainslie defiant after early struggles in challengers final

Team INEOS UK skipper Sir Ben Ainslie is adamant that his crew are still very much in the hunt in the America's Cup challengers final, despite falling into an early hole in their bid to face Emirates Team NZ next month.

On Saturday, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli made surprisingly easy work of the opening day of racing, bolting to a demoralising win in the first race, before claiming a much closer - albeit, still comfortable - victory in the second.

Team UK's struggles in lighter winds have been well documented since they touched down in Auckland and although they went a fair way to dispelling some of those concerns since the world series, their performance in mild conditions on the Hauraki Gulf showed they still have plenty of room for improvement, Sir Ben admits.

"Certainly, in lighter airs, we've got more of a jump to catch up with these guys," says Sir Ben. "That's been the case really for the last six weeks, since we started racing with the world series.

"I think we've improved a lot in lighter airs, but we still haven’t quite improved enough. We’ve got a lot to focus on in that area.

"When we get out in medium winds, then it's a really close race. It will come down to which team sails the best and that’s absolutely how it should be, and where you want to be as sailors.

"It's great to be up against tough competition. We're not happy to be 2-0 down, but we're going to keep fighting harder.

"We are going to come out, and race harder and push harder, and try to get those races back."

The Olympic great says he's experienced enough to realise America's Cup racing is often a game of inches, where the smallest overlooked details can be the difference between winning and losing - particularly, losing heavily.

"The Italians sailed really well today in both races," he says. "The first race, it was a case of one boat could get out of the water and one couldn't.

"The second race was really close and they just got it slightly better than we did.

The two boats duel on the Hauraki on Saturday.
The two boats duel on the Hauraki on Saturday. Photo credit: Photosport

"Credit to them, but we've just got to keep pushing - nothing has really changed. We've got to win seven more races, we've got to try get the boat going faster and we've got to sail better."

On the other side of the metaphorical harbour, Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni is equally as composed, insisting his team has plenty of work left in front of them to claim the further five wins to advance to take on the hosts.

While pleased with his crew's efforts, he echoes his adversary's points that both of Saturday's races were decided by errors, of which his team were also making their fair share.

"We can't take anything for granted," Bruni says. "Today we sailed well, but we also did a couple of mistakes and we have to keep focusing on the next race. 

"It's only two points and it’s a long series, the longest series so far. We have to think race by race, day by day.

"The performances of the boats - if you take away the first race that was won at the start - are very close and I think we will see a lot of close racing. Just stay focussed and don’t waste time celebrating."

On Sunday, the teams will take to the water for two more races in conditions that are expected to be much more favourable for the Brits, with a strong easterly brewing.

They'll also shift from Course A to make use of Course E, which is located between Maraetai and Waiheke Island.

Join us at 4pm Sunday for live updates of the America's Cup challenger final between Luna Rossa and Team UK