Prada Cup Final racing will start again this Saturday without fans present after a tense week of statements and counter statements about possible delays

The Prada Cup Final, to select the challenger for the America’s Cup, between INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli will restart on Saturday 20th February, following a brief hiatus after the announcement of a new Covid-19 lockdown in Auckland. 

At the close of last weekend’s racing the announcement that Auckland would be entering a ‘level three’ lockdown forced the organisers to cancel the next two races scheduled for Wednesday 17th February.  

Since that time there has been something of a war of words, with the America’s Cup Event authority (ACE) outlining the possibility of a delay to the schedule should level three lockdown continue and possibly should the lockdown be reduced to the less severe level two – which would allow for racing, but would not enable fans to attend the event. 

The Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, would need to sign off on this schedule change and seemed determined to stick to the planned schedule. As things stand, a winner of the event will be declared on Wednesday 24th February irrespective of the number of races sailed. 

The schedule has racing planned for this Friday 19th February (now cancelled). Thereafter there is racing scheduled for Saturday 20th, Sunday 21st, and Monday 22nd, with two reserve days on Tuesday 23rd and Wednesday 24th. 

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli have improved their aerodynamic fairings around the crew positions. Photo: COR 36 / Studio Borlenghi

As such there is still time for the full 13 races in the series to be sailed (should they be needed, it is a first-to-seven-wins competition) but a single lost day could see the event one race short. 

Prada Cup Final war of words

It has been a very public and acrimonious disagreement between ACE and the Challenger of Record as reflected in the opening paragraph of ACE’s confirmation that the event will go ahead, which reads:

While America’s Cup Event is encouraged by the news that Auckland has come down to COVID Alert Level 2, one step closer to Level 1 potentially early next week, it is clear that COR are determined to remain inflexible to a change in the race schedule against the interests of the public and commercial benefits to the city and businesses. ACE has consistently maintained our preference to have the best opportunity to race at Alert Level 1.

The release goes on to quote Chair of America’s Cup Events Tina Symmans stating that: 

“Since Sunday, we have worked really hard on behalf of everyone in Auckland and all Kiwis to give COR the opportunity to demonstrate some honour and respect for this country and delay the PRADA Cup until we have a greater chance of everyone being able to enjoy and benefit from being back into Level 1” explained Symmans.

“Clearly they have forgotten the words of their leader Patricio Bertelli at the opening press conference who spoke about how privileged everyone is to be in Auckland without significant Covid restrictions and that therefore everyone has a commitment and responsibility to deliver great sportsmanship and the PRADA Cup to be a major sporting event.”

“This plea has fallen on deaf ears and it’s clear that their focus is solely on Luna Rossa taking the PRADA Cup rather than the greater good of the country who have worked so hard in order to be in a position to stage this event.” Symmans concluded.

In a press conference involving Iain Murray – Regatta Director, Symmans and Francesco Longanesi Cattani, Director of External Relations of the Prada Group, Cattani responded:

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“I welcome this decision [to race] and the fact that a reasonable approach has been taken towards the calendar. I disagree totally with the fact of the sporting moments that Tina Symmans has made. 

“From my view, anything that has to do with sporting fairness lies with respecting the rules and regulations and this is what we are doing and what we wanted to implement. 

“Secondly we want to respect the government provisions regarding the Covid situation and the protocols that have been agreed with ACE which are in place and allow the racing to go on under level two. 

“Thirdly they comment that [the Challenger of Record] is just pushing for Luna Rossa. I disagree as the opportunity for more races gives INEOS more races to win on the water. 

“If we were delaying the racing, the chances for INEOS to recover their current scoring would be minor. So the approach we have is to go on the water as soon as practically possible, in order to give the maximum number of races to give INEOS and Luna Rossa a fair game.”

Back to the Prada Cup Final racing 

War of words and organiser hostilities aside, the outcome is that we should see Prada Cup Final racing this coming weekend, and will have a winner of the event, and so official challenger for the America’s Cup, by this time next week. 

For the sailing teams, very little has changed, with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli still 4-0 up in the first to seven match and so remain very much the favourites to win the event. 

Photo: COR 36 / Studio Borlenghi

Conditions are due to be mid-range to light in Auckland on Saturday and getting lighter for Sunday, conditions in which Luna Rossa has shown good speed. With the lack of spectators, ACE along with Murray have announced that the outermost courses will be used – with little need to remain close to shore with no fans present. As such, we should expect less shifty winds than we have seen on the inner courses. 

The shiftier courses have, to date, seen the British team at their best. A more consistent wind direction will mean the racing is more focussed on boat speed over and above tactical positioning on the course. 

With all these points in mind, if the Brits want to win the Prada Cup, it will be imperative that they get, at least, an even start, if not outright win the starts. 

The opening weekend of racing saw Luna Rossa win all four starts and effectively control the races from there. Looking back at the action in review it seems clear Luna Rossa have found a way to improve their tacking performance, but INEOS do remain competitive in outright speed terms.

This will put even more emphasis on INEOS getting off the startline well and not getting forced into a tacking duel, where Luna Rossa are strong. 

One final point of note, teams measure their boats in, at the start of each round of the event. As such there will have been no developments to either boat in terms of foils etc. arriving for this weekend of racing, the boats will be largely as they were for the previous week. 

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