Sailing: America's Cup defenders TNZ sit up and take notice of INEOS

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FILE PHOTO: Grant Dalton, managing director of Emirates Team New Zealand, smiles during the America's Cup World Series regatta in Naples

(Reuters) - INEOS Team UK's dominant display in the Challenger Series has made America's Cup defender Team New Zealand sit up and take notice, TNZ chief executive Grant Dalton has said.

INEOS, skippered by Ben Ainslie, registered five victories from five starts to storm into the final of the Challenger Series, with the winner set to take on TNZ in a series of head-to-head races from March 6 for the America's Cup.

"Certainly, as the defender, we are seriously taking notice," Dalton told the Times. "There's no doubt they are sailing brilliantly — they are absolutely pin-point perfect and they are not making mistakes on a shifty course.

"They are used to sailing boat-on-boat and they are used to sailing close (to their opponent), as our guys are."

In terms of weaknesses, Dalton said INEOS do not seem to have resolved their issues with performance in light winds.

"They are sailing a good boat exceptionally well, not a great boat OK," he said. "They will be concerned at their light-air performance and working towards how to fix that, although I'm not 100% sure how they will do that."

INEOS grinder David 'Freddie' Carr said they were striving to bridge the gap to TNZ.

"You'd be foolish not to have improvements to put on the boat throughout a two-month period of a Challenger Series into an America's Cup and we have got new stuff," Carr told New Zealand's Stuff media.

"The Kiwis are where the bar is set and ultimately that's where we want to get to ..."

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)