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Sailing dynamite: A day for the match racing purists

by Mark Jardine 13 Feb 21:43 PST 13-22 February 2021

Many of the America's Cup traditionalists have derided the foiling revolution, vocally saying the speed of the yacht isn't important, it's all about close, tight racing. Right now, that viewpoint seems redundant as we've got both the extraordinary speed of the AC75s and full-on match racing. The combination is sailing dynamite.

After going two races down on day one, it was obvious that INEOS TEAM UK were going to be aggressive, but there's a fine line between aggression and greed. When Ben Ainslie was looking for the hook in race 3, Giles Scott correctly called that they were already on the lay-line for the left hand side of the line, gifting Luna Rossa the start. As Kenny Read said on the live commentary, Britannia was, "going for the hook when there wasn't one to be had".

After a tentative first lap, Luna Rossa took control on the second upwind leg, forcing Britannia left - classic match racing tactics.

On Leg 4 downwind INEOS TEAM UK nailed the leeward gate lay-line, performing a 'JK' mark rounding and tacked, a move named after legendary American sailor John Kostecki, reducing the deficit by 8 seconds.

The final upwind leg saw Luna Rossa again tacking on the face of Britannia twice, this time forcing the British team right.

Without a mistake Luna Rossa had this race nailed and they calmly stayed between Britannia and the finish line to go 3-0 with another flawless performance. In total each team performed 17 tacks in the race, giving the grinders on board a proper workout.

After the first race Luna Rossa's port-side helmsman Francesco Bruni said, "We are super happy after probably the first real match race we've seen with these boats."

Sir Ben Ainslie had no option but to tip his hat in reply to the Italians saying, "Nice race guys, we need to get our act together and carry on."

The numbers show Luna Rossa just slightly quicker around the course both upwind and downwind, but you'd expect that with a boat in the lead. There's nothing in it and it's all down to how they sail.

Race 4's pre-start saw a handling error on board Britannia, with the yacht heeling over hard, rising out of the water and splashing-down, gifting the start advantage to Luna Rossa. The British team were thankfully unscathed and calmly got back into race mode, trying to limit the damage in time lost to Luna Rossa, but the Italian team are not in the generous mood this Valentine's Day and kept tight control throughout.

The Brits were pushing it and up the second beat INEOS TEAM UK picked up a boundary penalty, leading Ben to exclaim, "What? Look at our track!". The boundaries aren't subjective - the umpires make the call over the radio, but it's the computer which makes the call as to when the line is crossed.

A big right shift on Leg 4 made the course very one-sided, so the rich got richer, with 85% of the final beat being on starboard tack. Another win for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli puts them 4-0 up going into Wednesday's racing.

It's not time for panic in the INEOS TEAM UK camp, but they're certainly facing an Italian team who have found their mojo. In the PRADA Cup Round Robins the dual helmsman setup was looked on as a weakness, but it was anything but this weekend. Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni are working together flawlessly, and the increasing tactical input from Pietro Sibello is proving highly beneficial.

The upgrades to their AC75, aside from the aero fairings, look concentrated on sail control, with the team able to gain more depth in their sails providing more power on the downwind legs. Sailing an AC75 in a match race is all about control, both of your own boat and that of your opposition, and the Italians are dishing out a masterclass in it.

INEOS TEAM UK's margin for error in this PRADA Cup Final is rapidly getting slimmer. There's nothing to call in the breeze with boat speed so winning the start is crucial. Going into a couple of days away from the racetrack Ben and Giles need to shift the momentum. As Ben said today, "We can sail one hell of a lot better than that and we need to."

As Ben said in Saturday's post-race press conference, the position hasn't changed, they still need to win seven races to progress. The problem now is that the Italians only need to win three.

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