America’s Cup 2021: Michael Burgess – How Luna Rossa dominated opening day of the Prada Cup final

ANALYSIS:

Maybe Jimmy Spithill was right.

The Australian is a media professional and superb at putting a spin on things, finding positives where nowhere else can.

But Spithill always insisted that going through the Prada Cup semifinal was going to be an advantage, with the extra racing in tough conditions.

It was, he maintained, the preferred route – and who would disagree with him now?

Luna Rossa have been transformed since the end of the round robin, and their speed gains were confirmed on Saturday, as they took two races off the previously unbeaten British, with margins of 1:52 and 26 seconds on the first day of the Prada Cup final.

It was impressive to watch, and their crew work looks significantly ahead of what we saw in January.

There were some mitigating factors, with Britannia’s vulnerability when the breeze drops exposed in the first race.

The use of course A also meant fewer wind shifts and a steady breeze, negating the work of British tactician Giles Scott, which was so important in January, as he continually spotted shifts to open up the course.

But the Italians were sleek through the water and smooth off it. They appeared to have a slight upwind advantage, and even in the second race, which was much closer, there was always the feeling Luna Rossa would find a way to stay ahead.

Five minutes into the opening race, it must have been a strange feeling for Ineos Team UK. Luna Rossa were off in the distance – barely in sight – and the British trailed by 80 seconds at the first gate.

It was a sharp shock; they had been peerless in the round robin phase and led in 23 of 28 legs against their two opponents.

When they did trail to Luna Rossa back then, a 19-second deficit was the largest they experienced.

But everything unravelled on Saturday just under a minute before the start, as Britannia came off their foils in light breezes of around eight knots. Luna Rossa almost did the same – but like a nervous ice skater managed to regain their balance – and that was the contest.

Ainslie and his crew were stuck in quicksand, then copped a pre-start penalty to rub salt into the wound.

Ineos Team UK trailed by 1:20 at the first gate, and never looked like cutting into the lead. At one stage the margin was more than 1000m, and at 4:45pm Luna Rossa crossed the line, inflicting the first defeat of 2021 on the British.

The breeze picked up for the second race, but the Italian continued their dominance. Both boats were even off the start – after a fascinating duel – but Luna Rossa edged ahead on the first cross by 40 metres – and sailed mistake-free from there.

They led by 11 seconds at the first gate and extended in small increments. The bare statistics didn’t show much difference between the two teams, but Luna Rossa looked a click faster.

“It was a good day,” said Spithill after the race. “I thought the boys sailed really well. There were still a few things we need to sharpen up on but a great job by the team.

“We know we have a great boat and good team backing us up on shore. But we still have quite a bit on the table.”

Ainslie was noticeably downcast, but still defiant.

“It was a close first beat [in the second race],” said Ainslie. “The Italians did a good job, sailed that slightly bit faster, little bit better. We will have to go away and think about how we can get a little more pace.”

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.

• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.

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