Finally, the America's Cup 2021 is in sight as Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli claimed victory in the Prada Cup. The Italian team will now take on Emirates Team New Zealand in the America's Cup proper.

The teams are there, the boats are there, and finally after two months of AC75 racing in Auckland, for the Prada Cup, we know the two teams who will race for the 36th America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

The Prada Cup, as it is now named, used to be called the Louis Vuitton Cup – or Challenger Selection Series. The event’s purpose was to decide which of: Luna Rosa Prada Pirelli; INEOS Team UK; or American Magic would take on Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2021 America’s Cup.

Although INEOS Team UK won the Round Robin Series of the Prada Cup, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli defeated American Magic in the Prada Cup Semi-Final by four straight wins, and then defeated the Brits in the Prada Cup Final with an impressive 7-1 scoreline.

As the Defender of the America’s Cup Emirates Team New Zealand did not take part in the Prada Cup series.


Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget

What do we know?

With the Prada Cup now concluded we have a reasonable idea of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Italian team has had a good run up to the Cup and, significantly, when they launched their second AC75 it was the closest to their first generation America’s Cup boat of all the teams, Defender included.

That they did not go down a new or different design route with their second boat indicates that they were happy with the performance and characteristics of their first attempt and their second boat represents a refinement of their initial concept.

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There are two areas where Luna Rossa were unlike any of the challengers. The Italian team operates a boom-less setup for their mainsail, allowing significant depth in the sail down low and a very clean intersection with the deck. A conceptually similar approach to the mainsail foot has been taken by New Zealand on their second AC75.

This will provide good power in the sail low down where it is most beneficial and the lack of a boom also means the sail and deck interaction is very clean aerodynamically speaking.

The second unique feature on the Italian’s boat is the team’s double helmsman setup. Francesco Bruni steers the boat when on port tack and Jimmy Spithill steers when on starboard.

The team does not have a dedicated tactician with both the helmsmen and mainsail trimmer, Pietro Sibello, all interacting to make tactical decisions. During the Prada Cup Round Robins, which tended to be sailed in shiftier winds, this seemed to be a weakness and the team often made tactical errors.

However, the Italians do seem to have sharpened up in this area and looked stronger in the Semi-Final and Final. Both of these two events did feature more stable winds, however, so it was easier for a team to rely on boat speed. It remains to be seen if this will be a weakness going forward.

What the setup does offer, though is stability through manoeuvres. On all other boats the helmsman crossed the boat, which is then temporarily steered by another member of the crew. For the Italians, the only crew member crossing the boat in the manoeuvres is their mainsail trimmer. Theoretically, provided the transition from one helm to another is smooth enough – which it seems to be – the team can be quicker to settle onto a new tack or gybe after a manoeuvre.

Luna Rossa have shown themselves to be very quick in the lighter end of the wind scale and have also impressed generally upwind with a strong high mode allowing them increased tactical options.

The winder end of the conditions seem to be something of a weakness – the team has admitted as much in the past – but this is an area they have been working on. They have also, at times lacked a little downwind performance, here too we have seen recent improvements.

Trying to understand where Emirates Team New Zealand stand in terms of performance is a much harder proposition. The only time we have seen the New Zealand team racing an AC75 was back in December 2020 during the America’s Cup World Series and Christmas Race.

The Kiwis were by no means totally dominant and lost some of their races, however, it is reasonable to assume they did not want to give the challengers significant amounts of data upon which to compare the relative performance of each boat.

Even within the context that each boat was probably hiding some of their outright performance there were certainly times that the Kiwi outfit looked to have some impressive speed. Certainly of those on the ground in Auckland we have spoken to, the general consensus seems to be that Emirates Team New Zealand probably has the quickest AC75 on the water.

How does the America’s Cup work?

Now the Prada Cup has concluded, we are down to two boats, The Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, and the Challenger, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. These two boats will now take part in the America’s Cup Match.

The competition is head-to-head Match Racing, with the winner being the first boat in the fleet to get to. As was the case for the final of the Prada Cup, the America’s Cup will be won by the first boat to reach seven wins.

Racing is scheduled to run mostly on weekends and in some cases in the week. Each race day has two races scheduled with the exception on the final day on Monday 15th March, which will be the tie-break race, should it be needed.

The first weekend of racing is on the weekend of 6th-7th March, then there are a further two races on Wednesday 10th March. In theory, should one team win every race, they could conclude the series by the first race of the day on Friday 12th March.

All this means that the second race on Friday 12th, the two on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th, and the final race on Monday 15th are all ‘if needed’ and so may not go ahead.

What is match racing?

As is tradition for America’s Cup racing as a whole, each of these races will see one team racing a single other team, or ‘match racing’ as it is known. Match Racing is a unique discipline in the sport of sailing and is explained well by INEOS Team UK sailing team member Matt ‘Catflap’ Cornwell in the video below.

How can I watch the America’s Cup?

All of the America’s Cup races will be broadcast live on Sky Sports, NBC Sports, TVNZ, RAI, and Sky Italia, as well as on the America’s Cup YouTube channel and Facebook page.

There is clearly no shortage of options available, the problem for European viewers is likely to be the timezone difference, with the America’s Cup racing taking place between 0300 and 0500 GMT, so if you want to watch live, you’d better set your alarm clock!

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