Prada Cup Final: two wins for Italy as Covid-19 delays further racing - by Yachting World

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli sail a flawless pair of races to lead the Prada Cup Final 4-0, while further racing is paused due to a Covid-19 lockdown in Auckland

“It was a tough day. We can sail a hell of a lot better than that, and we need to. We just gave two races to them off the startline,” So said Sir Ben Ainslie at the close of today’s racing in the Prada Cup Final, which saw his British team now sitting at the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in the Prada Cup Final.

For all the analysis that might be done, both outside and within the team, his summary is just about as accurate as you can be about a day the Brits will want to forget. There was little in it in terms of outright pace in winds that sat around 12-14 knots, but the Italian team, co-skippered by Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni, made all the right calls, won both starts and are now three wins away from taking on Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup.

Ainslie and his team will be rueing a decision to try to go for the hook on Luna Rossa ahead of the start in the first race of the day. To date in the Prada Cup it has seemed that the communication between tactician, Giles Scott and Ainslie on the helm of INEOS Team UK has been all but flawless. But it did not seem to function as well today.

Photo: COR 36 / Studio Borlenghi

In the build up to the first start Scott seemed uncomfortable about how far both teams were from the start but the Brits still tried to get to leeward of Luna Rossa and put themselves in the dominant position to leeward where they might be able to pin the Italian boat up to weather. Ultimately Luna Rossa led back to the start and the race was more-or-less over before it began. “We made a mess of the start and got a bit greedy going for the hook,” summarised Ainslie of the situation.

On such fine margins are victories earned in this top-flight racing, and it is a credit to Luna Rossa’s crew that, once ahead, they sailed a flawless race to ensure the Brits never stood a chance of overtaking them.

Match race tactics

For sailing fans, the racing in AC75s is a fascinating thing to watch. Today delivered tacking duels as both teams fought for the best side of the race course. But with better pressure making such a big difference to VMG there is also a balance to be struck between covering your opponent and taking the shifts or wind increases when they come your way.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were flawless in their execution of this duel strategy today, staying with the Brits when needed and breaking from the close fight when there were gains to be made. “It is a hard decision to keep it close and squeeze your opposition into a corner and keep tacking,” commented Francesco Bruni at the end of race one. “[Lots of tacking] is something the grinders don’t like, but today we felt it was the best thing as the English were in phase the whole time so we had to stay with them.”

INEOS Team UK get untidy in the second pre-start. Photo: COR 36 / Studio Borlenghi

If the Brits were greedy in the first start of the day, then they can consider themselves unlucky in the second. They looked to be fighting well for a dominant position in the build up to the start, but a gybe looked to go wrong and the boat leapt from the water in a style last seen when American Magic capsized in the Prada Cup Round Robins.

This was a much less dramatic affair, but it was still enough to briefly drop the boat off the foils, kill all speed to see the British team cross the startline behind the Italians. From there is was a case of déjà vu, as Spithill and Bruni put a tight cover on the Brits where needed and sailed home to a second win of the day.

“Today was all about getting off the line in front and then it was really a foot on the throat approach. The boys on the handles [grinders] did a good job today, we’re very happy with them today,” said Spithill reflecting the significant number of tacks each team made throughout the upwinds in both races.

“To be honest, the scoreline doesn’t reflect how close it is, we are a split second away from it being different,” he summarised.

The story of the day as Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli keep a close cover on INEOS Team UK. Photo: COR 36 / Studio Borlenghi

Racing postponed in Prada Cup Final

In theory the racing was set to continue on Wednesday 17th February when winds were forecast to be much heavier. However, shortly after racing concluded, an announcement was made by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern that Auckland would be headed into a Level 3 lockdown, after three members of a South Auckland family tested positive for Covid-19.

In a statement the organisers of the Prada Cup said:

As a result of the Government announcement of a Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, initially for 72 hours, the next scheduled race day on Wednesday has been postponed and the event village will not be open to the public during this time.

America’s Cup Event Ltd will be working with the Authorities and relevant agencies over the next few days to work through the ongoing ramifications.

You do not need to ask the sailors what their preference would be when asked to choose between public safety and their own sporting chances in competition. Clearly safety must come first, so to suggest the Brits will be happy that these events have taken place would be to do them a disservice.

But a chance to spend a little more time developing and analysing their performance will not go amiss. The question is, how much better can they get before the next race in the Prada Cup Final? And, significantly, when will we see another race in the Prada Cup Final?