Matthew Sheahan reports from dockside in Auckland as Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli beat the Brits 7-1 and earn their place in the America's Cup Match
From the evidence of the Prada Cup Round Robin, there was every reason to expect that the Prada Cup Final between INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli would go down to the wire as the two teams fought to become the official challenger for the America’s Cup.
But in the end, I don’t think it is unfair to say that by the conclusion of the series, there was a sense of inevitability about the result. It’s always easier to see what was going on after the final result has been delivered, if nothing else it’s the first time we get to step outside the bubble and look at the series as a whole.
The reality is that Ben Ainslie and the boys delivered two very impressive starts where they showed that they had the foresight and the skills to mix things up and put the super slick Italians on the back foot during the start.
The trouble was that in both races the early British advantage was scrubbed out barely a third of the way up the first leg.
No wonder Spithill and Bruni have been so relaxed in the post-race interviews and press conferences – they knew they had speed to burn. They knew that they had another gear in the gearbox in which they could either climb out of trouble, survive in the dirt, or squeeze ‘till it hurt and bounce the Brits off.
And of course, you knew that too. (And if you didn’t and you want a 3min catch up on what happened in the final two races).
But it also has to be said that Luna Rossa’s performance has been impressive. While the other two challengers have been on a roller coaster ride through the pre-amble to the Cup they have sat in the middle, said little, showed nothing and delivered when it counted.
When they slid through the Prada Cup Semi-Final and dispatched American Magic we thought that they were having to talk up an awkward route to the Cup. They would surely have preferred to have had the extra time in the shed. Turns out that this was wrong and that getting out on the race course was a good way to get match fit and develop their skills for their next encounter.
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It also turns out that one of their big issues was communication between Bruni and Spithill and their newly appointed breeze spotter/mainsheet trimmer Pietro Sibello. You don’t need or want to be in the shed to rehearse this kind of development, hours on the water is what counts.
For the Brits I suspect the issue was more about hardware. Their performance in the Prada Cup Final showed that they have the sailing skills but didn’t have the hardware to support it. And while there are tweaks and improvements that can be made, wholesale changes to the hardware takes time.
On to the America’s Cup
From here and the Italians are now going to face the Kiwis as the America’s Cup challengers for the second time. It’s taken 21 years to get back to this place [the two teams last raced an America’s Cup match against each other in 2000], which provides some perspective for those that are currently packing up their bases. So, can the Italians do it?
Again, it’s anybody’s guess at this stage but what is interesting is to consider how the Kiwis are preparing for the big days ahead.
The eagle eyed among you may have wondered why Emirates Team New Zealand have been on the race course just before and straight after racing during the last two days. Were they missing the media attention? I suspect not.
Surely the reason is to gather data on their future competition.
Getting onto the race course and going hell for leather gives you a great set of data to form a datum by which to compare the performance of the challengers. You know what you could do in those conditions, but how did they fair?
Getting their data is easy. Plus, unlike the practice races or training you know that they were pushing pretty hard given that their passage through to the Cup was at stake. The data is real.
Then, when the challengers have finished beating each other up you get onto their race course again in the conditions that they finished in and set a few more benchmark runs.
It’s often said that the problem with being the Defender is that you don’t get to play with the opposition until it counts and that they have got match fit in the process. I’m not sure that the case this time around.
So, after three months of watching the 36th Cup unfold I think it’s time to modify my approach too.
Looking back at my notes and ramblings since arriving here back in December I’ve decided that the best thing to do going forwards is to jot down my gut feelings and then bet against the complete opposite…such has been the unpredictability of this America’s Cup cycle.
We’ve now got just short of two weeks in which what we think we know now could easily change.
I’ll sign off with one other thought.
In winning the Prada Cup Final, Luna Rossa and the club that they represent, Circolo della Vela Sicilia, are only the second team/club in Cup history to be a Challenger of Record to make it through to the Cup itself in a multi-challenger event. The only other occasion was the first ever Challenger of Record, the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron in 1970 with Gretel II. They beat the remaining challenger, Baron Marcel Bich’s French syndicate 4:0 (two others had dropped out), but they lost to Intrepid come the Cup.
As a result, some see being the Challenger of Record as being a poisoned chalice, but if the Italians pull it off and win the Cup this time they will be the first ever Challenger of record to do so.