Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and INEOS TEAM UK squared off today to determine the winner of the PRADA Cup Challenger Selection Series and the right to face the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand.
The first day of the PRADA Cup Final was a double for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, with the Italian team taking the lead of the provisional ranking clearly leading both races and appearing just a click faster than the British team.
Still a long way to go to the end being a 13-races series, with the Italians in need of five more wins to go through to the America’s Cup. INEOS TEAM UK still needing 7 wins.
“Who will win?” has been one question that has been doing the rounds more than any other but, with a range of weather conditions over the next few days, the prospect of a quick answer to the most popular question in Auckland seems unlikely, leaving the racing to deliver the answers.
PRADA Cup Final – Race 1
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli beat INEOS TEAM UK
Current: 0.1 knots @ 205
Wind 6-9kts 050 degrees
Winner Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (ITA) – 1:52
The morning’s weather forecast suggested that there could be a delay to racing as the sea breeze took time to build against the gradient breeze. However the start was only pushed back by two minutes. Once the minimum wind speed requirements were met, the racing was underway.
But while one hurdle had been crossed in getting the opening race of the PRADA Cup Final underway, both teams were acutely aware that staying on the foils would be crucial.
As a result, it was perhaps not surprising that neither Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (ITA) who had entered on port and INEOS TEAM UK (GBR) who came in on starboard were inclined to engage in a close quarters pre-start duel. The risk of coming off their foils was too great.
And with just under a minute to go to the start INEOS TEAM UK were the first to do just that as their hull splashed down.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli came close to doing the same, but as they have demonstrated in previous races, the Italian boat is slippery in light winds and got back underway. As the clock counted down to the start, the Italians remained on their foils, just, their on board comms revealing how carefully they were playing this crucial stage of the race. As they crossed the start line INEOS TEAM UK were still off their foils. The gap between the two was growing quickly. Perfect for the Italians, painful for the British.
Indeed, from there, even when the British had got up and running, the distance continued to grow especially as INEOS TEAM UK incurred the first of two boundary penalties.
Luna Rossa passed through the first windward gate 1:20 ahead. By the bottom gate they had stretched out to 1:36. Another lap of the course and the Italians were continuing to deliver a flawless performance in the light conditions and had pulled out to 1:57.
Meanwhile, INEOS TEAM UK had found their feet and stayed on them but with just one lap to go the gap, which was now around 1800m, looked impossible to close down. And in the end it was, as Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli turned their commanding lead and dominant performance into a win.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli beat INEOS TEAM UK
Current: 0.4 knots @ 192
Wind: 14-17kts 070degrees
Winner Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team (ITA) – 0:26
The sea breeze built quickly, white caps were now spread across the course area. Race 2 looked set to be a completely different match.
In the pre-start, INEOS TEAM UK came smoking in on port tack and headed out towards the right hand side of the pre-start box. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli gybed and followed, a duel looked set. INEOS TEAM UK were leading the charge but they were also early for the start and keen to burn some time.
While the physical gap between the two closed, the start was even, both at pace, both at full speed. If there was an advantage it was to INEOS TEAM UK who were to leeward and slightly ahead, a position that Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli struggled to live with as they sat in the turbulent air off the back of the British. Seconds later they were forced to tack off. Advantage INEOS TEAM UK.
But when the pair came back together, INEOS TEAM UK were on port tack and had to give way, they chose to dip behind Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. In the seconds that followed, with the Italians on port and the British on starboard, it was Luna Rossa that appeared to gain in a slight lift in the breeze. And when the pair came back together this advantage was enough for them to cross in front of the British to pass through Gate 1 with a lead of 11 seconds. INEOS TEAM UK rounded the same mark but gybed shortly after they had rounded. Meanwhile, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli pressed on towards the right hand side of the course.
Speeds were now into the 43-45kt range with INEOS TEAM UK generally a notch quicker and slightly lower in heading. But by Gate 2 distance between the two had grown to 270m, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli choosing the right-hand mark, INEOS TEAM UK the left.
From the aerial shots is seemed clear that the left-hand side of the course had more breeze, but neither crew needed to be in the air to see this, both talking on their onboard comms about the left-hand side being the favoured route up the course.
Through Gate 3 Luna Rossa had edged out a few more seconds to round 19 seconds ahead as the pair chose opposite marks. Once again, the Italian performance was silky smooth. This time on the downwind leg the speeds were much more closely matched with nothing between them. And in the steady sea breeze, no real opportunity for INEOS TEAM UK to make up the distance.
On the last windward leg INEOS TEAM UK had hauled back a few metres, but time was running out to reel in the 270m that would be required to get back in touch with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.
At the top Gate 5 Luna Rossa were now 26 seconds ahead as they went around the left hand mark. The British took the right hand mark in a bid to try something different once again. But the Italian performance remained solid. A few minutes later they crossed the finish line 26 seconds ahead to take their second win of the day.
Quotes from the Race Course
James Spithill – Helmsman Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team
“It’s hard every time you go on the water, because for this class of boats we haven’t done a lot of racing. The boys have executed great maneuvers and we were able to get around and ahead of them.
We have a great boat, a great full package here, and a very good team backing us up. We are confident on our boat, but having said that, we still know there is quite a bit on the table. As I said, we made few mistakes today out there and we go back trying to sharp up on those for tomorrow.”
Sir Ben Ainslie – Team Principal & Skipper
“The Italians did a good job, they sailed just a bit faster and bit better around the course. Credit to them. We have to go away and think about how we can get a bit more pace, and look at the things we didn’t get quite right.”
“Luna Rossa are a great team and it’s pretty hard to get past them if they don’t make many mistakes. Course A is a very different one compared to Course C, where the wind comes from the land and there are some shifts that allow more lead changes. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
Today’s races have been held on Race Course A, the Northern playfield in front of thousands of spectator boats. First race was raced with wind between 6-9kt from NNE, whereas in the second race the breeze increased to up to 17 knots and the top speed reached was 47.82 knots.
Races will resume tomorrow 14th of February at 4:00 PM (NZT), two races are planned, weather permitting. The PRADA Cup Final is a best-of-13 series with a team needing to win seven races to advance to the America’s Cup Match and face the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand on the 6th of March.
Full replay of the races is available here.