The PR wrangling continues in Auckland as Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Ineos Team UK prepare to return to the track for the final batch of Prada Cup Final Races.
While the Challenger of Record (COR36) and America’s Cup Event (ACE) organisations play their media tit for tat mind games, for Ben Ainslie and the Ineos Team the end game is approaching all too fast.
Luna Rossa holds a four to nil lead and need just three more race wins to claim the Prada Cup Final and become the official challenger for the 36th America’s Cup match.
To prevent that Ineos have to produce a winning streak to rival that of Oracle Team USA in the 2013 America’s Cup, who fought back from 8-1 down, to reel-off seven consecutive race wins to draw level at 8-8, and then beat Team New Zealand in a winner-takes-all finale.
Ainslie played a crucial part in that historic victory when Oracle Team boss Larry Ellison drafted him as a replacement tactician. Ainslie was then alongside Oracle skipper James Spithill, whom he now faces as helm on Luna Rossa in Auckland this weekend.
After the debacle of the Christmas Race series, Ineos dug deep and returned to sweep the Prada Cup round robin series with five straight wins.
Despite the improvements made to achieve that surprise victory, they have looked off the pace against a rampant Luna Rossa, calling for all the Ainslie/Scott skills to pull this one around.
Racing restarts on Saturday and although there is some wriggle room, losing any more races is not really an option for the British team. Losing on Saturday would put them on notice of a possible exit from the Prada Cup Final – and thus the 36th America’s Cup – this Sunday.
The forecast this weekend is for light winds, which will place a premium on staying on the foils and who is able to accelerate fastest out of the manoeuvres.
With no changes allowed to the boat, Ainslie has admitted that they have concentrated on training in the lighter end of the wind spectrum over the last couple of days, working on their technique, particularly through the turning manoeuvres.
Whilst there was not a huge amount between the two teams, tacking was identified as an area where the Italian team made significant gains.
Another area of focus has been the pre-starts. Ainslie admits that nailing their strategy, boat handling and the split-second timing will be key to potentially catching the Italian team off-guard and taking the lead from the start.
In the previous light weather races the Italian boat looked a generation ahead of the Brits, and if the Ineos backroom boffins have been unable to find some magic ‘marginal gains’, then Ainslie and the Ineos crew are looking at a final weekend.
Not an easy weekend for British fans . . .
Expected Race Schedule – Subject to weather and any change to the lockdown restrictions.
Feb 20: Race 5 and 6
Feb 21: Race 7 and 8
Feb 22: Race 9 and 10
Feb 23: Race 11 and 12
Feb 24: Race 13
Saturday 20 February, first race of two at 16:15 hrs NZ time, 03:15 UK time. Live racing will be available on the America’s Cup YouTube website and the usual UK Sky and BBC TV stations.