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You must win the start!

by Mark Jardine 19 Feb 2021 21:10 PST 13-22 February 2021

It's a golden rule of Match Racing and much of your race can be defined by it. Win the start and you've a good chance of winning the race.

After the shenanigans, shouting and Covid-related delay of the previous week, the action returned to the water for Race 5 of the PRADA Cup Final. The British INEOS TEAM UK, without a win on the board, had limited margin for error, so the start was crucial, as it so often is.

Racing started on time in an 11 to 12 knot breeze, with clearly more wind on the right-hand side of the course. Entering the start area, the key was going to be time on distance to the start line to gain that essential advantage, and the Italian Luna Lossa Prada Pirelli team proved once again to be the masters, judging the lay line, maintaining a slow and high mode while foiling, absolutely dominating the British team and holding them to windward.

Both teams crossed the start line early as Britannia tried to squeeze in at the right-hand side of the start line. This penalty was scrubbed off since it was the same for both teams, but Ben had clearly barged in with the boats incredibly close to each other, incurring another penalty.

An immediate tack by Ben put Britannia onto the favoured right-hand side of the course, but trying to clear a penalty when on the advantageous side is difficult, leading to head umpire Richard Slater informing INEOS TEAM UK that they had another penalty. A clearly exasperated Ben asked him just what they had to do over the radio, but it was clear they'd gained an advantage on the Italians. The punishment fitted the crime.

Meanwhile Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni on Luna Rossa were using the time to position themselves perfectly to control Britannia once they'd cleared their penalty. In the chess-game element of sailing the Italians were two steps ahead - they literally had the race wrapped up before they'd even started.

Five in a row for Luna Rossa in the race to seven wins, the limited margin for error for INEOS TEAM UK was getting thinner by the second.

A calm Francesco Bruni said after the finish of race 5 that, all he had to concentrate on was the next race, whereas Ben Ainslie talked about struggling for straight-line performance. Sadly, this wasn't the issue we all saw - the British team were out-sailed.

Race 6, and this time INEOS TEAM UK simply had to win the start. After a nervy set of attempted hooks by Luna Rossa, the two teams crossed the line neck and neck, separated a few boat-lengths, with Britannia to leeward. Ben found a high mode to force the Italian team to tack away and they were off. For the first time in the PRADA Cup Final the British team held the lead in a race.

It never felt totally comfortable with a big comeback by Luna Rossa in Leg 5 reducing the lead from 32 seconds to 9 seconds at the final windward mark. This was a nervy 14 second win for Brits, but so needed. With this win INEOS TEAM UK have stayed in the game and just ever so slightly shifted the momentum.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston often uses the famous quote, "To finish first, first you need to finish". In Auckland in the PRADA Cup Final it's, "To finish first, you need to start first".

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