On Saturday 13 February 2021, Britain’s Ineos Team UK will meet the Italian Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team in the final of the Prada Cup.
This is the final series of races for the challengers, with the winner the first to seven wins.
Can Ainslie take Ineos Team UK into the America’s Cup for the first time since 1983?
There has been a remarkable change in the relative perception of the three original challengers – GBR, ITA and USA – since the launch of their second boats, and their performance in the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) in December, compared with their performance in the round robin stages of the Prada Cup.
The second British boat design was a radical change to their first effort and in the ACWS races proved to be plagued by mechanical problems, and great difficulty in getting foil borne in light conditions.
Resulting in time between races spent in the shed, getting the systems to function.
The British team finished without a single point and already looking the sick man of the event, reviving memories of the disastrous performance in Bermuda in the previous America’s Cup.
With the media claiming the team was at breaking point, Ainslie cancelled Christmas for the team and it was all hands to the pumps to achieve the seemingly impossible . . . A complete rethink of Britannia and her systems, to reverse what was looking like an embarrassingly quick exit from the Cup.
Working flat out since the World Series, Ainslie claimed that they had improved a lot from where they were, which was at ‘rock bottom’!
In the extensive list that seemed to include most everything except the actual hull, Ainslie claimed . . .
“A lot of new parts online including a new rudder, new rudder elevator, new mast, new mainsail, and new headsails. Then alongside that we have made modifications to our foils, to the aero package on our hull and we have changed the systems inside the hull.”
If they could do that in two weeks, you wonder what they spent the last year on!
In final practice Britannia looked sharper and commentators were talking-up the crew enthusiasm. Was Ainslie about to feature in another comeback scenario ?
Could they do it . . . Yes, they could!
The first day of the Prada Cup – the challenger selection series – Ainslie and Ineos Team UK nailed day 1 of the Prada Cup in Auckland, with back-to-back wins.
Beating the NYYC American Magic team with Dean Barker helming, and then the Italian team’s Luna Rossa with Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni helming.
No stopping them now, they continued on to win five races and with a sail-over against the damaged American Magic, move straight into the Prada Cup Final.
Suddenly the world had shifted . . . Britannia was unbeaten in five races, American Magic crashed and was rebuilt, only to lose four straight races against Luna Rossa and exit the event.
Just what had the Ineos Team found and fixed that made such a dramatic turn-around . . . from zero to hero in one bound!
Now in just a few days’ time we will see if they can continue to confound the pundits.
Luna Rossa completely outsailed an American Magic team seemingly unable to get their rebuilt Patriot back to the potential they had displayed before the capsize.
Did the limp American performance flatter the Italian team or have they also found the go-faster button?
Will Ainslie and the reborn Britannia have to dig deep again to produce another performance improvement?
Those first day races will be crucial, not to be missed and well worth losing sleep for.
First race Saturday 13 February, 16:00 hrs NZT (03:00 hrs UK)