The racing might be postponed this weekend, but soon the America's Cup will start. We consider, in detail, who is best placed to win of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Emirates Team New Zealand

It has been just shy of four years since Emirates Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup in Bermuda in the summer of 2017. The wait will soon be over as we get to see the kiwis take on the challenger, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in the America’s Cup Match.

The better part of four years may have passed since we last saw racing in an America’s Cup, but it has been fully 21 years since these two teams last faced each other in the America’s Cup Match back in 2001 in International America’s Cup Class (IACC) yachts, which saw Team New Zealand the eventual winners. 

Though the wait might nearly be over, fans of America’s Cup racing had to wait just that bit longer as the regatta – which was due to get underway the weekend of 6-7th March 2021 – was postponed due to a new lockdown in Auckland, New Zealand

Who will win the America's Cup

Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team racing in the America’s Cup World Series

Racing is due to get underway Wednesday 10th March. A statement from the America’s Cup organisers, issued on Friday 5th March stated:

Under COVID-19 Alert Level 2 or 1the race schedule will remain as planned with 2 races per day – Wednesday 10th, Friday 12th, Saturday 13th, Sunday 14th, Monday 15th and each day after that.

The current schedule has racing every day until either the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand or the Challenger Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli reaches 7 wins.  

When the AC75s of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and America’s Cup Defender Emirates Team New Zealand do finally go head-to-head on the water, the question on everyone’s lips will be, who has the faster boat? 

Cards on the table here. We do not know the answer to that question. Indeed, nobody does but neither are we devoid of any information upon which to make some educated guesses. 

Selections locked in for the America’s Cup Match

Unlike some previous America’s Cups, development through the course of the regatta this time around is severely restricted. It’s easy to look back at events in the 2013 America’s Cup – when Oracle Team USA came back from almost losing to Emirates Team New Zealand to take a victory that was one of sport’s greatest comebacks – and think whoever is slower on day one, could still turn their fortunes around. 

However, for the 2013 AC, boats were measured and approved for racing every day. In this edition of the America’s Cup, measurement takes place well ahead of the racing and boats must remain broadly unchanged from the first to the last race. 

This was brought in, in order to try and get teams to develop boats better able to cope with a broad range of conditions. Thus instead of having windy weather and light weather foils, teams have been forced to optimise one set across a broader range. 

Although this decision was made to force teams to optimise for a broader range of conditions, teams racing in the preceding Prada Cup Series (which had the same rules, limiting measurement to once per round) were tweaking setup to match the forecasted conditions for each series. 

Measurement takes place on the Monday before racing for the regatta is due to start and is locked into the calendar. All of this means that, though racing did not go ahead on the scheduled first weekend, both teams measured in on Monday 1st March and their equipment selection is nailed on from that moment until the America’s Cup concludes. 

This locked in equipment applies to hull, rig and foils but a key area is the type and number of sails that may be measured in ahead of the event. No others but those stated at measurement may be used. There are even strict rules on the weight of the sails that are carried on board and corrector weights that may be required to ensure that the all up weight of the boat remains the same.

With racing due to start on Wednesday 10th March, and this measurement taking place fully 10 days ahead of the first start, weather forecasts will have been little use in terms of equipment selection. 

As a final point of interest in this area, teams need to measure in a list of what their replacement items will be in the case of gear failure. Teams need to be able to demonstrate to the measurers that the gear failure was unintentional and then that it is not possible to effect a repair.

Article continues below…

Assuming they are successful in doing this, teams can only use replacement items that have been included on the list that they made as part of their declaration and in their order of preference.

Into an already confusing situation in terms of each boat’s relative performance all this adds a huge layer of complexity and guesswork for all. 

Can Luna Rossa win the America’s Cup?

We have seen a lot of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in racing trim so far this America’s Cup cycle, seeing them in the Prada Cup Round Robin, Semi-Final and Final. So we have a reasonable idea of their strengths and weaknesses. 

In particular the Italian team has looked very quick in the lighter winds and look particularly impressive in windspeeds around or below 10 knots. 

Luna Rossa will take on New Zealand in the America's Cup

Photo: Studio Borlenghi / COR 36

They also seem to have particular strengths upwind where they seemed to be able to sail higher than INEOS Team UK in the Prada Cup Final consistently. 

But for every positive is a negative and the Italian boat has, at times, not looked as fast as either INOES Team UK or American Magic downwind. Though they have greatly improved their performance in the mid-to-high windspeed range, they have not yet shown anything like the devastating pace shown in the lighter weather. 

The Luna Rossa twin helmsman setup seems to now be working, where in the early stages of the Prada Cup, it had looked a potential weakness in terms of their tactical decision making. This has come largely from training on the water and getting mainsail trimmer, Pietro Sibello more involved in the communication process. 

Photo: COR 36 / Studio Borlenghi

With tactical problems seemingly now resolved, the true nature of the twin helm can begin to shine. It is clear that with only one crewmember crossing the boat in each manoeuvre (Sibello) they are going to be at an advantage getting settled after a tack of gybe as compared to a boat with a helm crossing the boat alongside other members of the crew. 

For all we know about the Italian outfit already, it would be an unwise team to plan to go into the America’s Cup with no upgrades ready to go and the Italians are sure to have made some changes ahead of measurement.

The head of the Italian team, Max Sirrena, has alluded to new sails which were flown in to Auckland after the Prada Cup Final and has mentioned that there has been work done on the foils and aerodynamics package. We can assume there were other upgrades going on the boat too. 

Emirates Team New Zealand 

Despite seeing little of the Defender so far, it still feels hard to bet against Emirates Team New Zealand in this America’s Cup. 

As a team they started this cycle lightyears ahead of the competition in terms of simulation, and computation software as well as their understanding of foiling. They have also been a part of this game for long enough to understand what it takes to win. 

There are a number of innovations on the Kiwi boat that already set it apart from the rest of the fleet. Key to that is the New Zealanders’ foils. These are flatter than any other AC75 has raced with (closer to a T than a Y shape). Their foils also look to be smaller, in terms of overall area, than any other AC75. 

Both these aspects imply that their foils are aimed at top speeds over and above stability or getting onto foils early. 

That Emirates Team New Zealand have smaller, seemingly speed-focussed foils should imply that they would not generate enough lift to make the boat foil as quickly in light weather. But the Kiwis will now have plenty of data on their competition and they will know the windspeed in which they need to foil, so it seems unlikely they will go into the America’s Cup with a boat that needs higher windspeed to get it onto the foil. 

Assuming this is the case, then the New Zealanders must believe they have found some way of generating more power from the same windspeed than their opponents. And for this we must turn to the sails. 

There has been a great deal of activity in terms of new sails from the kiwi camp in recent weeks. The first clearly different sail we saw in use was a ‘batwing’ mainsail, similar to one we saw used by American Magic in the Prada Cup series. 

New sail for NZL in America's Cup

This sail manages to measure in by having the battens long enough to make the minimum measurement for the sail, but has large chunks missing between the battens to create a sail that is ultimately smaller than the intended minimum size. 

However, in the context of generating more power to get foils with less lift to work earlier, this mainsail seems counter intuitive. And that may well be the case. It might simply be a sail that the team wanted to test for windy weather sailing, when drag becomes the biggest performance factor, over and above power generation. It could even be a red herring – if a very expensive one for a team that typically is not wasteful of their resources. 

In the last week, we have seen a potentially very interesting sail development from Emirates Team New Zealand in the form of a new Code 0 sail. When the AC75s were first launched, sail changes while racing were promised and a Code 0 was included in the sail inventory with the assumption this could be used downwind in light conditions or even potentially upwind in very light conditions. 

This sail is the reason all boats have a bowsprit, from which the Code 0 could be flown and furled. 

We have seen all teams testing Code 0 sails, but these have long since disappeared, with a number of teams mentioning they could get an AC75 onto her foils slightly earlier, but the aerodynamic drag penalty was such that as soon as an AC75 was foiling, the Code 0 was far slower. And even furled the aero drag was too much on a boat going upwind at 30+ knots. 

When we consider the New Zealand ‘batwing’ mainsail alongside the newly unbagged Code 0 it could point to Emirates Team New Zealand considering using larger headsails. It’s unlikely that they would run the Code 0 alongside the ‘batwing’ main but they could use the new mainsail with a larger headsail than they might normally use.

This would change the overall centre of effort of the rig, moving it forward and down compared to a bigger mainsail and smaller jib and might allow a more aerodynamically efficient package with as much power. 

This would have the effect of essentially taking sail area away from the top of the rig (the top half of the mainsail) and reintroducing it down low (a combination of a full sized bottom of the main and a bigger jib). This could, in turn, allow the team to run more total sail area in light winds, as the sail area would mostly be focussed down low and produce less heeling moment to the boat, before she is up on her foils, and producing her maximum righting moment. 

At this stage, these are all just guesses, but with Luna Rossa making changes to an already impressive platform and the Kiwis unveiling new sails it’s an exciting moment in the cycle, even if we will did have to wait just a few days longer to see just how the two boats stack up.

If you enjoyed this….

Yachting World is the world’s leading magazine for bluewater cruisers and offshore sailors. Every month we have inspirational adventures and practical features to help you realise your sailing dreams.
Build your knowledge with a subscription delivered to your door. See our latest offers and save at least 30% off the cover price.