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Prada Cup Final: Day 3 of the Finals - Brits score first win

by Ben Gladwell - Sail-World NZL 20 Feb 19:19 NZDT 20 February 2021
INEOS Team UK - Race 5 - Prada Cup Finals - Day 3 - February, 20, - America's Cup 36 © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Ineos had a serious mountain to climb before today’s racing started and when the breeze only built to around 7 to 8 knots at race time, that mountain got a lot taller. But the Brits came back in Race 6 to score an end to end win.

Here how an eventful Day3 of the Prada Cup Finals unfolded:

Race 5 - The never-ending penalty

In the pre-start, we finally saw some proper argy-bargy that this matchup had been promising for so long. Ineos got themselves stuck high in the starting box and behind Luna Rossa as they came back towards the start. Ineos couldn’t get down below Luna Rossa and effect the hook. As the leeward and right of way boat, Luna Rossa opened the door a little for Ineos, tempting them to think that perhaps the Italians were having trouble laying the mark, and putting their bow down tried to sneak inside the mark, despite being in a precarious position. Spithill pounced and swung his bow up, trying to either shut Ineos out or score a penalty. Ainslie didn’t seem interested in giving way and so earned himself a penalty as Luna Rossa then had to bring their bow down to avoid a collision. Both boats would eventually be OCS when the gun went, which meant neither was penalized, however, Ineos still had to wear the one they picked up for not giving way to Luna Rossa.

Ineos took their sweet time working their penalty off, not meeting the two boat length requirement before the first cross and gained a further advantage by not doing so as they slam dunked Luna Rossa near the boundary. They were therefore awarded a second penalty and asked to drop 50 metres behind by the race umpires. On the first beat, the boats stayed very close together. Ineos tried to was their penalty off by completing a tack, which is usually a good option as it forces a loss of VMG and reduces the number of maneuvers required to get to the top mark. Unfortunately for Ineos, they kept tacking into massive lifts and spent almost the entire first beat trying to get rid of their penalty with Ainslie arguing with race umpire Richard Slater on race radio. Ineos would round the first top mark 15 seconds behind.

There was little to pick between the VMGs of the two boats downwind, but Ineos was in an ominously familiar position, being 200m behind and not really looking like overtaking. It was a case of follow the leader down the first run, with nothing really gained or lost by either crew, sailing from boundary to boundary as they attempt to minimize manoeuvres.

Both skippers seemed to favour the right-hand side of the course. Rather than taking a split at the bottom mark that was on the table, Ineos gybed to follow Luna Rossa out to that side of the course. Luna Rossa hooked into a brilliant high and fast mode up the second beat, their lead growing by almost a metre per second for most of the first part of the leg - stretching out to 450m in front.

As was the theme last weekend, Luna Rossa seems to have the ability to sail higher into and out of manoeuvres, stepping away from Ineos every time they tack or gybe. By the top of the second beat, Spithill and Bruni had positioned themselves nicely, almost 600m directly to windward and in phase with Ineos, giving them absolutely no option to make inroads let alone be in a position to pass. The delta at the mark would be 58 seconds.

There seemed to be a dichotomy between the VMG and gap between the two boats on the onscreen graphics. The VMG numbers were always in the British favour, but the Italian’s lead continued to grow. By the time they started the last lap, the lead had grown to more than 700m and was now more than a minute. From the body language onboard, it was pretty clear that frustration was beginning to get to Ben Ainslie as he meandered across to the boat to take the wheel on the other side as they completed their final gybe at the mark.

The final upwind was an uneventful leg, with Luna Rossa slotting back into their familiar mode of just sailing the shifts and letting Ineos try to get around them by sailing in the unfavoured side of the course. The deficit was now out to 1:19

Downwind, Luna Rossa was dropping their foils impressively late as they gybe, only lowering the foil arms as they were beginning the turn. Ineos needed a catastrophe onboard Luna Rossa which never came. The Italians would take another step closer to the America’s Cup match, going up 5-0.

Race 6 - The (British) Empire strikes back

For Ineos to be in this regatta any longer than tomorrow afternoon, they needed to win the start in this second race. Ben Ainslie has talked a lot in interviews about needing to sail better. If they didn’t do that now, they would likely find themselves in dire straits.

It looked like Ineos had finally nailed a start and put Luna Rossa away, but they had led back towards the line slightly too early and ended up needing to run down the line a little, giving Luna Rossa a couple of boat lengths of gauge to windward.

Shortly after the start, Luna Rossa tacked and headed for the right-hand side of the course that had paid so heavily in the earlier race. Ineos went all the way to the boundary. When the boats came together, Ineos looked poised to cross in front on port but went for the lee bow instead. Luna Rossa bounced out and went back to the right-hand boundary. Both boats hit their respective boundaries at almost the same instant, another close cross in the making. Ineos backed themselves and made the cross on port, Luna Rossa having to tack and follow them into the mark, rounding 8 seconds behind.

Luna Rossa gybed out early, the onboard communications suggesting they felt it was going a bit light where Ineos was. Ineos had kept their big jib on from the race before, which perhaps gave them a slight edge downwind. The boats were well out of phase on the first downwind, with Ineos eeking out a slight speed edge and pulling out to a lead of around 200m by the time they were on the lay line for the bottom mark. Their boat speed was often 2 knots higher than the Italian crew, making a good fist of it to finish the first lap 21 seconds ahead. Luna Rossa showed a bit of class at the bottom, nailing a tack rounding and getting a split.

Ineos went right into attack mode, tacking to follow them and then setting up a tight cover when Luna Rossa tacked at the boundary. If Ineos had an advantage on the downwind, it seemed Luna Rossa held the edge upwind. The tacking duel that ensued on this leg saw Ineos’ lead cut from 220 metres down to about 150 metres when Ineos abandoned their covering tactics and went seeking some better breeze. They were rewarded by having their lead reinstated out to 220 metres by the time they reached the top mark, rounding 18 seconds ahead.

A very nicely picked shift saw Ineos rocket out to a lead of nearly over 600m on this leg. Their gybes looked a lot better, not needing to speed build as much and were able to sail a much better VMG. At the bottom mark at the end of the second lap the delta was 32 seconds, a gap that would have bought a smile to many a British face.

Luna Rossa wasn’t giving anything away, they sailed a strong beat in breeze that looked to have dropped a couple of knots. They dug back into the British crew and were only 150 metres behind at the midpoint in the final beat. Ineos seemed to have confidence that they were in better pressure, not making much effort to cover their opponent any longer. Luna Rossa continued to gain, now as they were both on their respective laylines, the gap was just 60 metres, and a split course set up as they rounded 9 seconds behind.

Luna Rossa bore away into some brilliant pressure and was ripping downwind at 3 and 4 knots faster than Ineos. Unfortunately for the Italians, the boundary came too early and they had to gybe out of their gust, as the momentum swung back towards Ineos who were now 150m in front.

The gybing duel on the lower section of this leg was the most intense we have seen to date in this series. Luna Rossa looked desperate to force a mistake and sneak past but Ben Ainslie and Ineos looked equal to the task, crossing the line 14 seconds in front to take their first points of the series.

This race will likely prove to be a tipping point. It showed that Ineos is fast enough to win if they can get aggressive and win the start, and it showed that Luna Rossa is fallible.

Tomorrow’s racing will be an exciting watch. Ben Ainslie and friends will have to score at least one win from the two races, otherwise it will be Luna Rossa advancing to the America's Cup Match as Challenger.

The forecast is for a NE seabreeze that will be light in the morning, but building later in the afternoon - very similar conditions to the first day of Finals racing - which proved to be problematic for INEOS Team UK.

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