END OF THE ROAD FOR THE BRITS

The British team fails to reach the America’s Cup Match.

Last month Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli battled it out in a best of 13 races against INEOS TEAM UK on the Waitemata Harbour to become the Challenger of the 36th America’s Cup presented by PRADA.

The British team had surprised everyone with their dominance in January’s Round Robins, against the Italian and American teams, with their radical change in performance after December’s races which saw them fail to win.

The Brits then took advantage of more time off the water while the Italian and American teams raced in the PRADA Cup Semi-Final, which Luna Rossa won with ease. INEOS TEAM UK had their base doors closed for several days suggesting that they were carrying out modifications that involved more than simply fiddling, fettling and polishing.

The differences between the British and Italian boats are considerable, both on a technical level and in terms of handling. For example, Luna Rossa has two helmsmen, Francesco Bruni and James Spithill, who never change position on the boat. Also, on the Italian boat there are eight grinders, some of whom are double tasked and assist in manoeuvres.

The organisation on board INEOS TEAM UK is quite different. It respects a more traditional division of roles: Sir Ben Ainslie is the helmsman, Giles Scott the tactician and the two move from one side of the boat to the other at each tack or gybe, as does the mainsail trimmer Bleddyn Mon.

Another important characteristic of INEOS TEAM UK is that the British boat only has six main grinders. They work on particular transmission system and the grinding gear always turn in the same direction. In this way the British can count on five free people during the regatta, the helmsman and tactician, the mainsail trimmer and the two flight controllers that sometimes help grinding.

Luna Rossa approached the PRADA Cup Final off the back of that dominant encounter against American Magic, beating them by four wins to zero in two days of racing. The Italians were able to outperform even in strong winds, previously considered their weak point, without losing their strength in light breezes.

After earlier losing to the British in the Round Robins, Max Sirena, Luna Rossa team director and skipper, spoke about the subsequent changes made to the Luna Rossa AC75: “Since we raced INEOS TEAM UK last time, we have new foils, a new modified mast, a new set of sails, a lot of development on the software system on the boat and a lot of improvements, especially in the communications on board. We made a lot of mistakes when we raced against INEOS TEAM UK and we want to come out with one mistake less than them this time.”

The changes certainly made an immediate impact in the PRADA Cup Final. In a complete turnaround from the Round Robins, Luna Rossa took all four initial races.

The largest margin of victory was in race one, in which the British team incurred the first of two boundary penalties. However, the dominant team was Luna Rossa. Race two was closer – just a 26 second gap – but it went to the Italians.

At the end of the first day of racing Ben Ainslie said: “The Italians did a good job, they sailed just a bit faster and bit better around the course. Luna Rossa are a great team and it is pretty hard to get past them if they do not make many mistakes.”

On day two, a first tight race saw Luna Rossa and INEOS TEAM UK displaying perfect one-on-one duels of tacks and tactics. This was followed by a race in which the British team made one pre-start mistake and were left chasing the Italians for the remainder of the race. With the boats’ performance looking pretty even, the start became a defining moment. The Italians simply sailed better and dictated both races finishing the day leading the British 4-0.

In what was probably a welcome postponement for the British team, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered Auckland to go into lockdown after the discovery of three new local cases of Covid-19. The country, which has a population of five million, has recorded just over 2,300 coronavirus cases and 25 deaths.

There followed extensive discussions between the organisers and teams about when to resume racing, which included the possibility of no further racing and Luna Rossa taking the overall win based on the 4-0 scoreboard.

Luna Rossa had made it clear they wished to continue racing as planned, despite the Covid Alert level 3, to complete the PRADA Cup final as scheduled. Plans had been in place to deal with potential Covid situations arising and, as pointed out, there numerous sporting events taking place around the world without spectators.

In a statement, though, INEOS TEAM UK showed its support for America’s Cup Events: “INEOS TEAM UK respect the decision communicated by ACE to delay the PRADA Cup racing due to the current Covid-19 alert level in Auckland. The result of the PRADA Cup final should be won and decided on the water in the agreed format of first to win seven races.”

Chair of ACE Tina Symmans said: “We have worked really hard on behalf of everyone in Auckland and all Kiwis to give COR (Luna Rossa) the opportunity to demonstrate some honour and respect for this country and delay the PRADA Cup until we have a greater chance of everyone being able to enjoy and benefit from being back into level 1.

“Clearly they have forgotten the words of their leader Patricio Bertelli at the opening press conference who spoke about how privileged everyone is to be in Auckland without significant Covid restrictions and that therefore everyone has a commitment and responsibility to deliver great sportsmanship and the PRADA Cup to be a major sporting event.”

“This plea has fallen on deaf ears and it is clear that their focus is solely on Luna Rossa taking the PRADA Cup rather than the greater good of the country who have worked so hard in order to be in a position to stage this event.”

ACE’s preference was to have the best opportunity to race at Alert Level 1. In the end, though, racing was only delayed by a few days, but with Auckland at Covid Alert Level 2 when racing was due to resume, there were strict rules in place including which racecourses could be used and gatherings of no more than 100 people in the America’s Cup Race Village or public spectator vantage points around Auckland.

However, when the teams got back on the water, Luna Rossa resumed racing where it left off, getting their nose in front at the start and keeping the British in their wake to claim a vital fifth point. However in the second race Ben Ainslie finally got his hands on the textbook and executed the same game plan to take a convincing first point.

Sir Ben said: “We are very happy with the win, we have been on the wrong side on the last few days. The team did a great job, they just do not give up, they are going to keep fighting all the way, so we got one back, we needed it. I think it seems to be that on 13 knots and above the boats are pretty even, but beneath that we struggle, they know and we know, that is the challenge. I cannot say enough about the team, they have been great.”

However, the good times did not last with Luna Rossa winning the next two races and therefore winning the Series 7-1. Luna Rossa had outraced the British team in the medium to light conditions that proved to favour the Italians so markedly.

Sir Ben said: “Well done to Luna Rossa and well done to Italy. Hats off to them. We are obviously disappointed we did not get through but we are to go away, back to the drawing board and see what we can do.”

For the second time in their six attempts, Luna Rossa have their name included in the exclusive list of just 36 challengers in 170 years that have made it to the America’s Cup itself.

As happened 21 years ago, the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand faces Luna Rossa this month on the Hauraki Gulf to decide who will win the oldest trophy in international sport.

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