Italian-British (and flying) battle to challenge the Kiwis

The Prada Cup Final pits Ineos Team UK against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli this weekend in Auckland. The winner will challenge the New Zealanders to win the America’s Cup in March.

Which of the British or the Italians will have the honor of challenging the New Zealanders for the oldest sporting trophy in the world? Auckland is hosting the Prada Cup final from Saturday, which will finally designate the poster for the 36th America’s Cup. It is in the best of thirteen races, on monohulls flying at almost 50 knots at peak, that Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli will compete for the right to face Emirates Team New Zealand from March 6 to 21.

Since 2017, the New Zealand crew has been the title holder of this prestigious competition on which time has no influence, since it is celebrating its 170th birthday this year. Arriving at the top of the three-way mini-championship which launched the Prada Cup in January, the British challenger qualified directly for this final. Unlike the Italians who had to go through a semi-final against the New Yorkers of American Magic.

“We never stopped chasing time”

Ben Ainslie

“We were really keen to try to take this direct route for the final”, explains the skipper of Ineos, Ben Ainslie, convinced that the days thus gained by his team to prepare for the final were not luxury. “Throughout this campaign, we have not stopped running after time,” says the four-time British Olympic champion, referring to the major technical problems that had plagued Ineos’ first outings on the New Zealand blue waters in December. “Getting a bit back, even though it was only a week, allowed us to make the changes we wanted to the boat,” he continues.

Americans swept away

Time is money. And according to the specialists of the America’s Cup, it is one of the most precious commodities for those who enter this competition which brews millions. And it is clear that the Italians did what was necessary not to drag on the way, sweeping American Magic 4 sets to 0 in the semi-finals.

Helmsman of Luna Rossa, the Australian Jimmy Spithill is also delighted with his team’s progress and the extra competition that these four regattas will have brought. “I really think it’s an advantage to have had to compete in these rounds, because we are much stronger,” announces the man who has already lifted the silver ewer twice.

Ineos dominated Luna Rossa a month ago

“There is no better preparation than the pressure that the whole team experienced during this semi-final where there was no catching up possible”, notes Spithill. Sporting duel, technological challenge: the Prada Cup is therefore also a battle of communication between sailors who know each other well. Ainslie and Spithill were both part of Oracle Team USA’s epic 2013 America’s Cup.

The American challenge then signed one of the most fabulous “remontadas” in the history of the sport when, led 8-1 by Team New Zealand, it ended up winning 9-8. Like the majority of Vendée Globe boats, the 75-foot (23-meter) sailboats designed for this 36th edition are equipped with foils, these appendages which allow the boats to rise in order to reduce the resistance of the water.

In fact, these futuristic rockets led by a helmeted crew fly at a peak at nearly 50 knots (about 93 km/h) in aerial piloting where any error is fatal. In this little game, the British had won their three sets against the Italians during the “round robin”. But that was a month ago, an eternity. Even for a competition that defies time.

Program for the Prada Cup final: Saturday: rounds 1 and 2Sunday: rounds 3 and 4Wednesday February 17: rounds 5 and 6Friday February 19: rounds 7 and 8 (if necessary)Saturday February 20: rounds 9 and 10 (if necessary)Sunday February 21: rounds 11 and 12 ( if needed)Monday February 22: rounds 13 (if needed)

NB: the Prada Cup is played in the best of thirteen rounds. The crew that wins seven rounds will qualify for the America’s Cup

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