There is everything to play for in the Prada Cup Semi-Final with American Magic having relaunched their boat and Luna Rossa Pirelli Prada looking to make amends for missing their first shot at the Prada Cup Final

With Sir Ben Ainslie’s INEOS Team UK winning all five of their opening races and going straight through to the Prada Cup Final, now the event moves into its second phase as American Magic take on Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in the Prada Cup Semi-Final.

Following their capsize and damage, American Magic has managed to rebuild their AC75 and were able to get out on the water on Wednesday 27th January for some much needed training and fine-tuning ahead of the first two races of the Prada Cup Semi-Final on Friday 29th January.

How does the Prada Cup Semi-Final work?

The Semi-Final is a first-to-four wins affair and racing is scheduled to start on Friday 29th January with two races planned. Another two races will follow on Saturday 30th January. Should either team win all four of the opening races, they will go straight through to the Prada Cup Final.

Should neither team make it to four wins on Friday and Saturday there are a further two races scheduled on Sunday, with a last, winner-takes-all, race on Tuesday 2nd February should it be needed.

After this competition there will be a break in racing before the Prada Cup Final begins on 13th February, where the official challenger of the America’s Cup will be selected.

American Magic

Following the final race of the Prada Cup Round Robins, the teams held their usual Press Conference inviting questions from the media. Also included in this press conference was American Magic’s Terry Hutchinson, who was able to answer questions and provide an update on exactly where the American boat, Patriot, was in terms of her rebuild following their capsize and damage on the opening weekend of racing.

Terry Hutchinson (left) has been keen to praise his team’s hard work in getting Patriot back on the water. Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

Hutchinson was quick to heap praise on his own team and how quickly they have responded to such a potentially ruinous situation. “I’m not surprised by the quality of the work being done in our shed. Over the last three years, our team has always exceeded expectations and they’ve always delivered our gear on time and to a standard that is very high,” Hutchinson said.

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He was also quick to praise the well-documented help American Magic has received from both the other challengers and, in particular, the America’s Cup Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand: “I think the thing that we are reminded of is really what the Defender has done for us, and what they’ve helped us achieve. Certainly without them, [a repair process of this speed] wouldn’t have happened. We have nothing but high thanks for Team New Zealand for what they did.”

In a fitting tribute to the other two challengers and the America’s Cup Defender, when Patriot as relaunched she features a pair of plasters (or Band-Aids) over the spot their boat had been damaged, with both plasters consisting of the various opponents’ colours and the words ‘Thank You’ written on them.

American Magic’s repair includes a nod to the other competitors who helped them get back on the water. Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

It’s a fitting gesture and alongside the help offered by all the other teams, once again shows the sport of sailing off in the best possible light.

However, come Friday, you can be sure this sense of togetherness will be left firmly on the dock as the Americans and Italians begin their fight to see who will be the first to be knocked out of the competition.

It is impressive and encouraging that the Americans have been able to repair their boat in time for the Prada Cup Semi-Final, but questions will now turn to just how competitive they might be.

On the one hand, Patriot does seem to be fast, particularly in windier conditions. During the race in which the team eventually capsized, the American team was leading Luna Rossa and looked to be pulling away. This clearly shows the boat was not off the pace.

Although they will be unhappy to have failed to notch up a single point in the opening two days of Prada Cup racing before their capsize, these losses largely came down to race craft and decision making.

American Magic are back on the water and training. Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

Though Patriot seems quick enough when the breeze is up, we have seen them struggle in lighter wind races, ultimately losing to both Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and INEOS Team UK in light weather. The second of these two races saw the team really struggling to get onto the foils and it is hard not to view this as a weakness.

However, most commentators said the same of the Brits ahead of the Prada Cup itself, so one bad lightwind race does not an awful boat make.

The concern here is more the amount of time and resources American Magic have had to throw at getting Patriot back on the water. This is time, you imagine, they would like to have spent analysing and developing their light wind performance. Just how much they have been able to do alongside the repairs is a big question.

American Magic and INEOS Team UK both struggled to foil in a very light wind Round Robin race. Ultimately the American team struggled most. Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

As we publish this piece the forecast does not look all that friendly for the American syndicate winds look to be fairly breezy on Friday, but look to then drop throughout the course of the weekend. There is a very real possibility of delays to racing on Sunday (if races are needed on Sunday) due to light winds, such is the outlook right now.

We must add, though, that the forecasts are not always that accurate for this time of year on the Waitematā Harbour.

If Patriot does have a light wind weakness then they could well be facing their worst conditions for the most important races of the event.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, and all teams for that matter, have been making improvements and we have recently seen them team out on the water with a what are believed to be a new set of foils (which would be their third and final pair as dictated by the rules). They have been out on the water over the course of this week gathering valuable data and making changes to their boat.

As such you have to argue that the Italian outfit have the best lead up to the Prada Cup Semi-Final and as a boat that has performed at its best in the lighter winds then they will be looking at the forecast for the coming weekend with wetted lips.

Luna Rossa has been looking to improve their medium wind performance. Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

“It’s not a secret anymore that Luna Rossa’s strength is in light air,” explained Luna Rossa sailor, Vasco Vascotto. “I think that medium-light air is what we are looking for, so that is no real secret. I think the Americans will pray for more breeze.”

But Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli is not without some weaknesses. In the Round Robin races, the Italians notched up two wins in total, both nominally against the Americans, but one of these wins was the result of the American Magic capsize and was a race in which they were being comprehensively beaten. With that in mind it is difficult to say at this stage which team is fundamentally stronger.

“I think right now there is a very dangerous situation for us because I am sure that the American Magic boat will be ready [for us],” Vascotto says. “They have worked three years in order to win the America’s Cup and [come] Friday they [will] still have that plan.”

Moreover, Luna Rossa come into the first race of the Prada Cup Semi-Final on something of a downward trend. They absolutely had the boatspeed to beat INOES Team UK in the Round Robin races – indeed the racing and boat speeds have both been far closer than most predicted coming into the event – but mistakes and bad decisions have seen them lose races.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli out training in light winds. Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

These are professional sportspeople so they will be at pains to note this means very little, but in the back of their minds they will also know they are now in a last chance shootout largely thanks to their own mistakes. Turning this into a positive frame of mind will be key for the team.

Specifically there has been a great deal of discussion about Luna Rossa’s double helmsman setup with Francesco Bruni and Jimmy Spithill steering on port and starboard respectively. This system means there is very little crossing of the boat to be done and theoretically should see them able settle onto a new tack quicker than their opponents. It does, however, rely on great understanding and communication between the two helms – who also take the role of tactician when not steering. To date there have been a number of moments where the team’s decision making has been slightly less slick than others such as INEOS Team UK.

Although the Semi-Final is a first-to-four-wins series, the opening race could well prove to be crucial. Should American Magic come out of the blocks working okay and manage to beat the Italian team, it would be a very tough psychological blow indeed.

As things stand, though, it does look as if this Semi-Final will be very much the Italians’ to lose. They will want to go out on Friday but even if they do not, they will know that the weather later in the weekend looks more likely to favour them.

Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

The broader Prada Cup picture

With only one spot remaining in the Prada Cup final and the losing team in the Semi-Final going home, we can assume that any upgrades the teams had ready to fit to their boats have now been added.

Of course, all teams will continue to develop throughout the course of the Prada Cup and America’s Cup, and some of those developments and upgrades might well still be in progress, so we might see further changes to whichever boat makes it through the Semi-Final. But this is not the time for either team to be holding any available performance enhancing upgrades back.

As for INEOS Team UK, they will be watching the Semi-Final closely to see who will be their competition come the Prada Cup Final itself. Ben Ainslie has already alluded to the fact that the team can now go through some developments in the weeks between the Semi Final and the final and they will be looking to making improvements too. The Brits will be hoping that the racing goes down to the wire, with each day of Semi-Final racing representing a bonus development day for the Brits, when their competition will be busy racing each other instead of testing new developments and systems.

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