Britain earns entry to Prada Cup Final
Published on January 22nd, 2021
Auckland, New Zealand (January 23, 2021) – INEOS TEAM UK stays unbeaten in the Prada Cup Challenger Selection Series after what was probably the closest race seen so far on the AC75s, with nine lead changes throughout the nail biting race against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.
With that result, Sir Ben Ainslie’s team won their the fifth race in a row in the Round Robins. Upon finishing the ‘ghost race’ start successfully it took them to 6 points, enough to qualify directly to the PRADA Cup final.
The Italian Challenger of Record fought until the last jibe of the last leg of a race that was the perfect definition of match race which saw the top speeds exceeding the 50 knot mark for the first time in racing.
RR3, Race 2 – ITA vs GBR
If the tension surrounding this Italian/British shoot out for the right to jump straight to the PRADA Cup final wasn’t enough, the weather was about to throw plenty of more stress into the mix. As the 16:00 start time arrived, the breeze was shifting back and forth across the race course, preventing the race committee from setting a fair course.
As a series of delays followed, pushing the start back by almost an hour, news then came that INEOS TEAM UK needed to play their ‘delay card’ of 15 minutes as they struggled to repair a problem with the mainsail cunningham.
By the time the race did start at 17:20 the breeze was up towards 20 knots at times and still clearly very shifty. In the pre-start and with just a few seconds to go there were the first indications that this would be a closely fought race. As they crossed the line, both were at the pin end, INEOS TEAM UK to windward, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli to leeward.
INEOS TEAM UK, unable to repair their cunningham, locked it in one position. While the team was able to maintain speed in the 18-22 knot SW winds, it was a result of sailing lower upwind and higher offwind.
As they headed out towards the left hand side of the course, INEOS were first to tack away. Luna Rossa followed shortly afterwards and when the pair came back together on the right hand side of the course they were still neck and neck. Luna Rossa tacked underneath, but were slow to come out of the tack. From here, the close battle continued to the first gate where INEOS rounded just 2 seconds ahead of Luna Rossa.
Drag racing down Leg 2 both were on port tack with Luna Rossa slightly lower and faster. But when they came back together, the Italians had lost out as the British crossed ahead. At Gate 2 the British lead had increased to 9 seconds as they rounded the left hand mark. Luna Rossa took the right.
The next time they came back together, Luna Rossa had taken the lead, the Italians appeared to be in phase with the shifts and were capitalizing on it, pulling out more distance. By Gate 3 their lead was 19 seconds, but there was plenty more left in this match.
Once again, the pair took opposite marks as they headed down leg 4. When they came back together this time BRITANNIA had taken distance out of their opponents and by Gate 4 the gap was down to 10 seconds with one more lap to go.
As both boats went around the right hand mark, Luna Rossa headed out to the right while INEOS TEAM UK pulled off a more tricky tack around the mark to split from Luna Rossa who saw the move and tacked to cover. Both now on starboard, when the British team came back they were now just a boat length apart as INEOS TEAM UK passed just behind them.
From there, Sir Ben Ainslie pushed out to the right, they needed the breeze to swing in their favor to capitalize on the separation. Next time that they came back together, INEOS TEAM UK was ahead as they crossed the bow of the Italians on starboard. The tables had turned yet again.
From here, just over one leg lay between the British quest to jump to the final and the Italian hopes to keep their fast track to the Prada Cup alive. By the top mark for the last time, Gate 5 there was just one second between the pair as they headed down the final downwind leg.
Once again, they took opposite marks and they came back together INEOS TEAM UK were on starboard, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli on port, the British were ahead by no more than a second as both tacticians talked of the left hand side being the better side.
For the next cross into the finish, INEOS TEAM UK were on port but could lay the finish, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli couldn’t and tried to get INEOS TEAM UK on a port-starboard. As they approached the stern of the British boat, Luna Rossa called a protest as they claimed they had to avoid the give way boat.
However, the umpires didn’t agree. The Italians had played their last card, it hadn’t worked and Sir Ben Ainslie cut the finish line 33 seconds ahead.
QUOTES FROM THE RACE COURSE:
SIR BEN AINSLIE – INEOS TEAM UK Team Principal and Skipper:
“That race was one for the fans. Pretty awesome race, great to take part in. Lots of lead changes, neck at neck all the way to the line, credit to the Luna Rossa guys for pushing hard. We had few issues leading into the pre-start as we were missing one of the key settings. The guys did an awesome job getting us around the track in one piece and getting the win.”
JIMMY SPITHILL – Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli – Helmsman:
“When we lodged the protest the both of us were doing 45 knots, we had to avoid BRITANNIA so it was a bit surprised that they thought it wasn’t close enough. At the top we didn’t pull off a couple of tacks as we should have, but it was really shifty. A continuous up and down the entire the racetrack and that’s why we saw so many lead changes. It was a good effort from the guys on board, and congratulations to INEOS TEAM UK. We didn’t get the result we wanted but we certainly learnt a lot from that one.”
RR3, Race 1 – GBR vs USA
Called a ghost race, as American Magic continues to repair their boat after incurring damage from RR2, Race 3, this match was won by INEOS TEAM UK after they started the race and the committee halted it.
RR3, Race 3 – USA vs ITA
Called a ghost race, as American Magic continues to repair their boat after incurring damage from RR2, Race 3, this match was won by Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli after they started the race and the committee halted it.
While the teams had the option to complete their race schedule on January 24, the Brits declined to do so. Therefore, INEOS TEAM UK now have three full weeks to develop their boat and get it ready for the Prada Cup Final, whereas Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli have only six days to fine tune their AC75 before the next race against American Magic who are in a race against time to repair their boat and get back to the startline. The Semi-final between Italy and USA – the first knockout phase of the PRADA Cup – starts on January 29.
Prada Cup Scoreboard (wins-losses)
American Magic (USA): 0-6
INEOS Team UK (GBR): 6-0
Luna Rossa (ITA): 3-3
The PRADA Cup is a series of four round robins (Jan. 15-17 and Jan. 22-24), with the winner of the series qualifying for the PRADA Cup Final and the remaining two Challengers going into a Semi-Final Series (Jan. 29-Feb. 2) for the right to join the Round Robin winner in the Final (Feb. 13–22). The winner of the PRADA Cup will then face the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, in the America’s Cup Match beginning March 6.
Source: Prada Cup