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Prada Cup: Britain rules the waves on the Waitemata - Day 1 Round Robin racing

by Ben Gladwell - Sail-World 15 Jan 15:14 NZDT 15 January 2021
Race 2 - Day 1 - Prada Cup - Qualifiers - January 15, 2021 - 36 America's Cup © Richard Gladwell /

Team INEOS UK put their stamp on the Prada Cup with two wins on Day 1 of the Round Robin Racing

Here's the action as it happened:

Shining sun and southerly sea breeze is the theme for Day 1 of the 2021 Prada Cup as the three challengers line up for the first official racing.

Conditions couldn't be much better, with breezes hovering around the 10-12 knot mark from the south south-west. Auckland is situated on a narrow point of New Zealand's North Island, with just five km separating the east and west coasts. As such, it is subject to two sea breezes, one from the north east and the other from the south west. Today's breeze, out of the south west, is the denser and more stable of the two which bodes well for the crews on the water today. Ben Aislie's Ineos Team UK will have breathed a sigh of relief as they appear to have made some good gains in the more stable breezes since their troubling light airs performance in the Xmas Cup.

Today's schedule goes as follows:

Race 1: American Magic vs Ineos Team UK

Race 2: Ineos Team UK vs Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

Race 1: First win to INEOS Team UK

Roughly even start with Ineos to windward and slightly behind. Both boats looked nicely locked in as they sailed away on starboard towards the left hand boundary. Neither boat looked to be giving anything away until the first manoeuvre, however Ineos stuck their first tack much better and accelerated away, sailing higher and faster all the way to the other boundary.

By the time Ineos came to do their second manoeuvre, they had sailed away from American Magic and crossed the Americans clear ahead. The British crew led in to the first gate, setting off for the left hand boundary with an 11 second lead. American Magic got a split course from Ineos. Unfortunately for Dean Barker's American crew, the British had picked the correct side of the race track and ripped away to an impressive lead - their VMG hovering at and above a mind blowing 40 knots.

Despite a very rough mark rounding, American Magic got around the bottom gate 18 seconds behind. Again they opted for a split course, looking for a potential better shift. Ineos VMG and boatspeed were both about 1-1.5 knots faster all the way up the beat which suggests they were sailing the same angle as the Americans yet extracting a bit more pure speed from their boat.

American Magic looked to be a little out of phase with the wind shifts, copping a big knock right before the gate and having to do an extra tack, eventually rounding the mark 47 seconds be behind. Ineos looks to be much more aggressive through the manoeuvres than previous racing. 47 seconds turned into a 1:08 deficit for the Americans, who were battling a VMG difference of three to four knots.

Ineos stuck to the right hand boundary all the way up the final beat with American Magic electing to do a few less manoeuvres and sail longer legs. The deficit stayed at 1:08 at the final mark as Ineos ripped down wind to the finish line they never sailed past the centre of the course, staying as far left as possible and eventually winning by 1:20.

Whatever problems INEOS was having in the Christmas Cup, they seem to have them sorted.

Race 2 is sure to be a battle for the northern side of the course.

Race 2: The Brits make it two in a row

Neither team looked too interested in engaging in the early stages of the pre start but then came together for a classic Jimmy Spithill aggressive tussle. Both crews raced out well beyond the pin, crossing the line 10 seconds after the start line with Ineos getting their dream start, two lengths ahead and heading for the favoured northern side of the course.

Ineos looked heavily dominant over Luna Rossa in the early stages, sailing significantly higher and faster, spitting Luna Rossa out in their exhaust and forcing the Italians to tack away. At the first cross, Ineos held a 100m lead and nailing a slam dunk. Spithill and crew sailed a good top half of the course to keep the deficit to 15 seconds at the top mark.

Down the run, the telemetry indicated a VMG advantage to Ineos of between two and four knots but could only stretch their lead by another seven seconds out to 22. Ainslie seemed content to sail the breeze rather than their opponent, seeking out their preferred side of the course and letting Luna Rossa sail wherever they liked. They would pay a little for this, letting Luna Rossa get to the right hand side of them about half way up the beat and claim back some of their losses.

Again on the second downwind both crews pushed to get the northern side of the course. The first chink in Ineos' armour was a slip off the foils as they rounded the bottom mark. Luna Rossa seemed perfectly happy to sail out to the southern side of the course, despite the fact that no boat had made a gain on that side of the course all day. Spithill and Bruni were happy to bounce from boundary to boundary rather than force Ineos to do some extra manoeuvres to try to force an error. As they rounded the final mark, Luna Rossa still faced a 13 second deficit.

Finally making a play for the northern side of the course on the final downwind, Luna Rossa made no further effort to take the race to Ineos. The British boat clearly had some wheels and for the Italians to beat them, they needed to force their rival into doing as many manoeuvres as possible, but Spithill and Bruni seemed to think that they could sail around Ainslie by going from boundary to boundary and letting Ineos pick their shifts and sail unchallenged.

Ineos went on to take their second race win of the day with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli finishing 28 seconds behind.

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