America’s Cup - Report
Prada Cup Final, Races 1 – 4
February 19, 2021
Yanmar Holdings Co., Ltd.
YANMAR, the Official Marine Partner of the 36th America’s Cup brings you pro-sailor Sam Gilmour from Yanmar Racing who will present a series of articles breaking down the details of the America’s Cup racing and giving us his unique perspective.
By Sam Gilmour of Yanmar Racing
The anticipation of the Prada Cup final has been rapidly building in New Zealand, with the prospect of the top two challengers who have each have shown remarkable levels of improvement since the very first AC75 races back in December last year.
For the opening duel of the series that is first-to-seven points, two races were scheduled for both the Saturday and Sunday. Burning questions with regards to the improvements and changes teams had been making were quickly answered, although we saw clearly that both teams are improving at a very similar rate.
Following on from their dominant Semi Finals, Luna Rossa looked to be an impressive package as they picked apart INEOS in each of the four races. What was most impressive was their dominance on the start line, not giving INEOS even a sniff of the lead. In the first-to-seven series, Luna Rossa cruised into a lead of 4-0.
It’s important to understand where each of the teams racing have come from and from there, we can understand their levels of expectation going into these finals. Both squads have immense pressure on their shoulders at this point in the game, with everything on the line.
INEOS Team UK
Built on the backing of billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe and the leadership of decorated Olympic star Sir Ben Ainslie, INEOS Team UK have put together a serious America’s Cup attempt in what is the team’s second campaign.
This team first formed together as Ben Ainslie Racing who contested, unsuccessfully, in the Bermuda edition of the America’s Cup, 2017. Although they showed glimpses of brilliance, including winning the America’s Cup World Series (a group of lead up events held in a number of venues around the world) the team struggled with the design and technology side of building their racing platform.
That time around, the team were one of the first teams eliminated from the qualification series, however, Ainslie vowed to get the team back up and running for the 2021 edition of the America’s Cup. Funding was a clear issue for their campaign, so when INEOS stepped in and promised £110 million, many believed this was the breakthrough they needed to bring the America’s Cup back to the United Kingdom for the first time since it was lost in 1851.
The team has already had highs and lows this campaign, back in December 2020 they were unable to win a race at the Christmas regatta and were so far off the pace that many pundits had already counted them out. Clearly, the team had the self-belief to pull themselves of that hole and won direct qualification to the Prada Cup finals by winning the Round Robin Series in January.
INEOS’s light air performance is still a big unknown going into this series, so whether they have been able to improve on this aspect will be critical for the team going forward.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team
The Italian syndicate are into their fifth America’s Cup campaign, dating back to 2000 where the team reached the America’s Cup final on their first attempt. Although they are racing a new class, the team have vast experience in putting together a successful America’s Cup campaign. This is something that will come as an advantage heading into the final stages of this campaign.
The team is backed by Patrizio Bertelli and the Prada Group, as well as Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli.
As such, the team have the money, resources and knowledge in creating an America’s Cup syndicate. They were touted as one of the favourites when the team announced its intention to challenge for the America’s Cup and have already shown that they are a strong group.
Luna Rossa have been a steady performer so far, with mixed results but always in the hunt. We have seen their rate of improvement, initially showing off outstanding performances in the light air conditions, to now, becoming much more of a balanced performer.
So, why did Luna Rossa perform so well this weekend? Well, between the two teams there was very little speed difference, although Luna Rossa managed to extend a small lead in the races.
Looking at the virtual eye the most noticeable difference was Luna Rossa making a small but definite gain in every tack. INEOS would claw the gain back in a straight line, but the edge Luna Rossa had off the starts meant they were able to force INEOS into doing more more tacks.
The starts were the obvious differentiator between the teams, as Luna Rossa showed superior judgement with their time-on-distance and positioning. INEOS looked untrained and at times inexperienced in the starts and their risk assessments were significantly worse.
Close to the lower limit of the wind range, both teams needed to be towed onto their foils before the start by their support teams. This was telling that coming off the foils was real possibility, so focussing on keeping the boat at speed and stable would be critical.
For INEOS, the first sign of trouble was when we saw them fall from the foil gybing in the prestart. Simultaneously, Luna Rossa managed a near perfect manoeuvre, which allowed them a free start line at full speed. The gap extended to 500 metres before INEOS could stop the bleeding and for Luna Rossa, this meant being able to control the race by that distance all the way to the finish. Clearly, Luna Rossa had an edge in the light end of the scale.
On the same course as race one we saw a significant increase in pressure for race two. This time, both teams were tight on the start line and we actually saw INEOS with a slight edge coming away from the line. Within two tacks, this was a different story – Luna Rossa pulled ahead to give themselves a nice lead heading around mark one.
From here, Luna Rossa edged out to a 30 second lead with their slight tack advantage and never really looked back. It was noted that perhaps INEOS had raced with a jib too big for the conditions and perhaps was an added reason as to why they couldn’t match Luna Rossa around the course.
Having had the night to debrief and think the day over, we hoped to see a renewed Team INEOS going into day two. For certain, INEOS took an aggressive approach in the prestart, failing an attempt at a hook on the final lead back to the line. Unfortunately for them, it meant mistiming the start and being 50 metres back off the line. From there, Luna Rossa were able to extend and put a controllable gap between the boats almost immediately. This race was lost by INEOS’s starting mistake, as opposed to Luna Rossa’s better performance.
With INEOS now 0-3, the pressure was building on the team. In this start, however, INEOS made a fatal boat handling mistake, mistiming the foil raise out of a gybe in the prestart, crashing off foil. Once again, they had handed the start and race to Luna Rossa.
The Italians sailed relatively unchecked around the course, finishing the weekend with a dominant scorecard of 4-0 from two days of racing.
So, what now?
Luna Rossa were able to perfectly execute their starts - to a degree that saw them cross ahead in all four of the races. Whilst the races were close, this was enough of a difference to ensure four relatively easy races.
For Team INEOS UK, they’re in a tough position. Clearly, races were lost as a result of their own mistakes as opposed to Luna Rossa being a significantly faster competitor.
Their focus needs to come primarily on improving the starts, focussing on coming off the line at least even and then work from there on being able to keep the race close up the first leg. Once Luna Rossa worked into the lead they were able to box INEOS against the course boundaries with relative ease.
At the time this has been written, New Zealand has been sent into another strict COVID-19 induced lockdown, meaning Wednesday’s scheduled racing has been cancelled, although the following looks to still have the green light.
Obviously, this puts a spanner in the works for the teams. With two extra days of preparation, can INEOS turn things around? Or will Luna Rossa prove to good, becoming the final challenger against Emirates Team New Zealand in this America’s Cup?
For now, we only hope racing will get going on time, because with so much on the line, it will be a spectacular affair.