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PRADA Cup Final Day 1 - Double delight for Luna Rossa

by Mark Jardine 12 Feb 2021 21:20 PST 13-22 February 2021

The anticipation ahead of the PRADA Cup Final was palpable. Both INEOS TEAM UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli had upgrades to their boats and more time on the water since their last meeting. The pre-race press conferences had been guarded, albeit with the odd tetchy comment, but it was clear that both teams were going to leave their talking for out on the racecourse.

With light winds of around 8 knots as the teams entered the start sequence, the big fear for INEOS TEAM UK was would we see the wallowing Britannia of December 2020, off the foils and slow, with Luna Rossa gliding away to an easy victory?

With port entry for Luna Rossa only one manoeuvre was necessary, which they executed to perfection, while INEOS fell off the foils in a painfully slow tack, giving Luna Rossa all the advantage off the start line.

The British team eventually found the breeze, but Luna Rossa was off. The problems for Britannia were compounded with a boundary penalty as Ben and Giles prioritised staying foiling. Luna Rossa had streaked to a 600-metre lead.

With the breeze up to 11 knots, the race was effectively over, barring a mistake from the Italian team. The deficit for the Brits was 1m20s at the windward mark, another boundary penalty and splash-down for the Brits made it 1m36 at the leeward mark.

Up the second upwind leg the lead went over 1000 metres, extending to 1150 metres by the time Luna Rossa rounded the top mark for Leg 4 of 6 with a 1m54s lead. Despite hitting 41 knots downwind, Britannia trailed by 1m57s going into Leg 5, 2m03s at the final windward mark, with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli winning the race by 1 minute 52 seconds.

Jimmy Spithill said "Never in doubt mate" with his trademark swagger as Luna Rossa crossed the line. The Italian team looked calm, collected and had great communication on board, but when you're in front it's easy to look good.

A big psychological boost for the Challenger of Record, winning a race against INEOS TEAM UK for the first time in the PRADA Cup Series, but with the sea breeze of 14-16 knots coming in for race 2, there would be no problems with staying up on the foils.

With the breeze up, Ben and Giles in the afterguard of Britannia sounded far more animated, and the pre-start was tight, jostling for position pre-start with the two teams crossing the line at the same time, but Luna Rossa holding the windward position. Ben squeezed them up, forcing the Italians to tack, but at the crucial first cross, the British team had to duck, giving an advantage of 11 seconds to Luna Rossa at the windward mark, then 17 at the leeward gate.

With separation of a couple of hundred metres these boats are still exciting to watch, but the close boat-on-boat racing simply wasn't there, each team almost sailing their own race. Luna Rossa's teamwork was extremely smooth, with slight signs of raggedness from Ben and Giles on Britannia. The breeze was increasing though, requiring both foils down at the leeward marks by the end of Leg 4 to reduce the 'skid' as the boats rounded upwind. Hardly anything to call on speeds between the two teams now, but still sailing 250 metres, or around 20 seconds apart.

The breeze was up again on the final run with the waves building, but Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli stayed calm and collected to win by 26 seconds.

Double delight for the Italians and as Ben Ainslie said when Britannia crossed the finish line, "It wasn't enough today".

Time to regroup for INEOS TEAM UK, but we've seen this team rise once before, and often seen Ben on the back foot at the beginning of a regatta only to turn things around. Tomorrow's another day, but the Brits need to find their top gear to avoid going 4-0 down in the race to seven wins.

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