The Drama of the Prada Cup

With the PRADA Cup, the 36th America’s Cup is underway. It’s exciting for our sport and North as three of the four teams competing in this Cup cycle use North Sails, and our NTG family brands Southern Spars, and Future Fibres to power their engine above deck. Our group has also supplied design talent and software to support the teams’ quest for the Cup. And for those of you who want to dress the part, North Sails is an official partner for event branded clothing.

 

January 23, 2021, 1330 GMT

Nerves on a Knifes Edge

 

Heading into this weekend’s race with race 2 Round Robin 3 the question on everyone’s mind was would this be the race that would send Sir Ben Ainslie direct to the finals of the PRADA Cup with five wins straight, or would it give Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni a big morale boost and a chance to fight again tomorrow.

As if scripted by Spielberg, it started on time. And stopped. And started. The wind shifts were messing with the race committee, there was an issue with the cunningham onboard INEOS TEAM UK, and by the time both boats charged across the line, the race was already a master class in suspense. The race would then go on to become the style of racing we’re all missing– nail-biting. Reflecting now, it was more like a tennis match or Le Mans endurance race, with something exciting happening every five seconds. If you weren’t on the edge of your seat, you were probably asleep.

On the first beat, Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli attacked, luffing INEOS TEAM UK in a move that is high-drama for displacement boats with foiling arms not sticking out their sides. It worked! INEOS TEAM UK, in the windward position, had to tack away and fell off its foils. Luna Rossa was looking good as they took the lead. In earlier America’s Cup racing, PRADA would have taken off and it would have been game over for INEOS once they fell off their foils, but, like we mentioned earlier, Spithill-Bruni were not going down without a fight.

But the British team was nailing the shifts, so by the time the boats reached the top gate, the lead was nothing (a mere nine seconds!). Italy screamed in on port and tacked on top of UK, but in the shifty conditions, the maneuver was clumsy. The wakes of both boats drew a perfect half-donut in the water around the mark, but INEOS TEAM UK had the inside and the lead.

In a race that would see nine lead changes and more than 50 knots boat speed, the wind shifts put Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli ahead. No wait, INEOS was ahead. No, PRADA. At gate four, INEOS TEAM UK pulled one of its signature slick moves and escaped– leaving PRADA almost in the dust.

Heading into the finish, Italy had one option left. On the final cross, it dialed down, tacked on to starboard, all with to hope a penalty as UK crossed ahead on port, but the umpire didn’t agree and let Britannia head for the line.

The race was awarded to INEOS TEAM UK. The scriptwriter got promoted. Sir Ben Ainslie and his underdog team remained unbeaten, clinched first place in the finals of the PRADA Cup, and made the last race of the Round Robins a box office hit. The British team will now have nearly three weeks to work on their boat and further develop it, whereas Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli will have to continue heading to the start line next weekend.

live-updates-the-prada-cup

January, 22, 2021, 22:15 GMT

Revised Round Robin Explained

 

Round Robins 3 and 4 have undergone a major rethink following the withdrawal of a challenger due to last Sunday’s near-sinking.

The revamped schedule canceled racing on Friday and has Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and INEOS TEAM UK racing each other just once on Saturday and Sunday. That means it’s an all-out, head-to-head for the Brits and the Italians.

In the 2013 America’s Cup, Spithill came back from -2 to beat Team New Zealand and win the race in what’s easily considered the best sporting comeback of all time, but only after Ainslie had come onboard to help reverse the losing streak. In this lead-up to the America’s Cup, Ainslie is so far the comeback kid, after losing the ACWS in December; now, Spithill is running out of runway to overtake him.

No doubt, Spithill has done the math. INEOS TEAM UK has four wins from four starts. One win this weekend will take them straight to the final of the Prada Cup in February, and leave Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli to battle it out for the remaining spot next weekend.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli has two points, so if they win both Saturday and Sunday, they will be tied with INEOS TEAM UK at four points. As the winner of the most recent race, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, would win the tie and go to the final.

live-updates-the-prada-cup

The team that misses the first spot in the finals will go on to compete in the semi-final against American Magic, which starts on Friday 29 January; it is a best-of-seven series. The losing semi-finalist will then pack their bags to go home.

Giles Scott of INEOS TEAM UK, says being the first team to the finals will be an advantage. “Winning the Round Robin buys you time to make more upgrades to the boat,” he says. “It’s going to be significant for whoever wins.”

In other news, regatta director, Iain Murray, has also revamped the racecourses to remove course A where the capsize occurred. From now on, almost all racing will be an extended Course C, a good all-round course with generally flat water. In the future, if an AC75 capsizes, the race will be abandoned.

Round Robins 3 and 4 have undergone a major rethink following the withdrawal of a challenger due to last Sunday’s near-sinking.

The revamped schedule canceled racing on Friday and has Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and INEOS TEAM UK racing each other just once on Saturday and Sunday. That means it’s an all-out, head-to-head for the Brits and the Italians.

In the 2013 America’s Cup, Spithill came back from -2 to beat Team New Zealand and win the race in what’s easily considered the best sporting comeback of all time, but only after Ainslie had come onboard to help reverse the losing streak. In this lead-up to the America’s Cup, Ainslie is so far the comeback kid, after losing the ACWS in December; now, Spithill is running out of runway to overtake him.

No doubt, Spithill has done the math. INEOS TEAM UK has four wins from four starts. One win this weekend will take them straight to the final of the Prada Cup in February, and leave Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli to battle it out for the remaining spot next weekend.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli has two points, so if they win both Saturday and Sunday, they will be tied with INEOS TEAM UK at four points. As the winner of the most recent race, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, would win the tie and go to the final.

The team that misses the first spot in the finals will go on to compete in the semi-final against American Magic, which starts on Friday 29 January; it is a best-of-seven series. The losing semi-finalist will then pack their bags to go home.

Giles Scott of INEOS TEAM UK, says being first team to the finals will be an advantage. “Winning the Round Robin buys you time to make more upgrades to the boat,” he says. “It’s going to be significant for whoever wins.”

In other news, regatta director, Iain Murray, has also revamped the racecourses to remove course A where the capsize occurred. From now on, almost all racing will be an extended Course C, a good all-round course with generally flat water. In the future, if an AC75 capsizes, the race will be abandoned.

live-updates-the-prada-cup

 

January 17, 2021, GMT 15:00 GMT

Round Robin Week 1 Recap


If the last three years have been AC75 flight school, then the first two Round Robins have been Top Gun. And school will be adjourned with a foiling monohull clinching the America’s Cup. But to get to graduation, there’s quite a lot of course work ahead.

As soon as the race committee announced Race day 3 (RR2 R 2, 3) would be on Course A, the most exposed course in the Hauraki Gulf, with 20-knot winds against a strong spring tide… drama was bound to follow. And, mid-way into the first race, a major wind shift turned a downwind run into a reach featuring Southern Ocean-style sailing– the race was quickly abandoned just as INEOS TEAM UK took the lead over Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli.

An hour later, Course A was a happy place after the front passed through, leaving a kindly 16 knots in a choppy sea. Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli and INEOS TEAM UK lined up again for Race 2 of Round Robin 2. The boats were evenly paced, with the Italians in the lead, although barely playing to Jimmy Spitthill’s favorite match race textbook– crossing INEOS TEAM UK multiple times without tacking on them. By the looks of it, the objective of this PRADA CUP is: sail your own race.

During the race, the lead swapped three times. And, despite the chat about whether Britannia would rule the waves or the waves would rule Britannia, Ainslie was still showing off those handbrake turns that return him direct to his favored side on the course after whipping through the gate. These impressive turns won him the race.

Carlo Borlenghi

And we thought that was the big news of the day.

Race 3, Round Robin 2: Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli faced American Magic; in a dramatic leg final leg with American Magic lead ingLuna Rossa PRADA Pirelli, Dean Barker surged into the final gate at full Gs speed. With a 600m lead, Barker tacked and bore away exactly as a gust hit the boat. PATRIOT reared high and crashed down: the first AC75 to capsize during a race.

live-updates-the-prada-cup

All crew are safe, and all teams’, including Emirates Team New Zealand’s, deployed their chase boats and powered to keep PATRIOT afloat, but she is badly damaged. The committee awarded the race to Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

Reflecting on Round Robins so far is like Goldilocks in reverse: the third day was too windy, the second day was too light, and the first day was just right.

Halfway through the Round Robins, we now no longer know if three boats will appear on the course next Friday. Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli has two wins to INEOS TEAM UK’s four. Luna Rossa has four days to unpack the first three days of sailing and see if Spithill, the king of AC comebacks, and Bruni can find another gear. INEOS TEAM UK has four days to keep their boat sailing fast. Meanwhile, the race committee may come out with some changes to help prevent AC75 boats from taking off like jumbo jets; after all, we want Super Hornets, not Boeing 787s.

We are glad that the American Magic crew are safe and applaud the quick action from event management, fellow competitors, and local responders who immediately came to help.

The PRADA Cup Round Robin series restarts on January 22, 2021, at 1500 NZL. Standby by for updates as the week unfolds.

January 16, 2021, 15:30 GMT


Beached As


If the America’s Cup is the Formula One of match racing, then day 2 was like rationing the fuel for the race cars and hiding the pit stops. And, even though these boats might look like spaceships, they still need the one thing that all sailboats need: wind.

In such light wind conditions, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and INEOS TEAM UK were lucky to be racing only once. Even then, both only just finished (thanks to a shortened course) with wide margins over their opposition, who received a DNF in RR1 R3.

Carlo Borlenghi

Going into the day, the big question of the day was whether INEOS TEAM UK could take day one’s stellar performance and apply it to (really) light air conditions. The answer: yes, they could. That said, all the boats struggled. The breeze bottomed out at three knots mid-race, and boat speed was even worse. At the end of the day, the boat that logged the most flight time won the race.

Ultimately, day 2 of the round robin PRADA Cup, was a demo in the evolving strategies of ‘how to’ match race the AC75s. Whilst in flight, a team had options and could attempt to link the puffs together, like stepping stones, or gybe its way down a skinny line of breeze to keep some fuel in the tank. Strategically-speaking, it was like they were foils with boats attached instead of boats with foils attached. All three teams made every concession they could for the foils to get the required speed to fly; it was better to be flying at 30 knots in the wrong direction than stodge along at two knots in the right direction. If a boat fell off its foils it might be a week, in Prada Cup-time, before it recovered. And, with a 45-minute time limit on each race, a week is way too long.

Weather skills, sailing skills, and flying skills all mattered on day 2, but the teams also had to be masters of mindfulness– and not just because it’s trendy. The stress levels were intense with three years of development coming down to just 45 minutes of racing. And, not to mention, all whilst this next chapter of the AC75 operator’s manual was being written right before our eyes.

Carlo Borlenghi

January 15, 2021, 1530 GMT


Britannia rules the air waves


Going into the first race of the PRADA Cup, everyone knew that anything could happen but few expected this. A 3am phone call to the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, would have been totally appropriate: ‘Wake up your country and tell them to tune into the America’s Cup– now.’

But we digress. INEOS TEAM UK was the only boat to race both races on Day 1; beating American Magic in race one and Luna Rosa Prada Pirelli in race two. In both races, INEOS TEAM UK won the start, won the first cross, went around the course perfectly poised and owned the fresher breeze on the right hand side of the course. In the process, the team went (seemingly rather easily) from underdog to top dog. Gone are their struggles.

Carlo Borlenghi

Twice, the team executed a hard U-turn at the downwind mark only to be slingshot back to the right favored side of the course. Commentator (and foiling expert) Nathan Outteridge gushed: “Wow, that’s just about the hardest manoeuver you can do on foils.” The final delta in race one was 1 minute 20 seconds. In race two, it was 28 seconds.

In both races, INEOS TEAM UK carried a smaller jib than its opponent and barely covered the opposition. Instead, the team sailed the wind shifts. Spithill and Bruni briefly tried a tacking duel but Ainslie never faltered. If only you could hear the applause on the spectator boats.

Ainslie wasn’t giving away any secrets though, apart from saying they had changed almost every part of the boat. Clearly, Ainslie’s tactician, Giles Scott nailed it– getting wind shifts down to crucial seconds, including one that Spithill said they had missed.

Of course, it’s only day one, but INEOS TEAM UK’s stunning improvement is now a beacon for the other teams. That said, no one is throwing in the towel yet. Spithill said a tough opponent will sharpen his wits to take on the Kiwis.

But perhaps INEOS TEAM UK had the speed all along? ‘If we had been sandbagging,’ Ainslie laughed, ‘we did a bloody good job of it.’ 

January 14, 2021, 1630 GMT

Buckle up: we’re ready for take-off


We’re sitting on the runway, engines are at full revs and the control tower has given clearance. Today, three AC75 foiling monohulls are heading into the most extraordinary America’s Cup Challengers Series we’ve ever seen: the 2021 PRADA Cup.

From Friday, January 15, on the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand, the three Challengers – American Magic, INEOS TEAM UK, and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli – will duel in a series of match races. The winner will take on Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup, 6-15 March.

A lot has happened in the three years since the announcement that the 36th edition of the America’s Cup would be sailed on the world’s largest foiling monohull and the yachting world said: ‘Huh? Is that possible?’ Yes, thanks to an incredible team of designers and engineers, it is possible.

Everyone – including the teams, regatta director, and media – needed all the learning time available, but Covid-19 canceled the first two America’s Cup World Series events, scheduled for April and June 2020. That made December’s ACWS in Auckland the AC75’s racing debut and the first chance for everyone (fans included) to gauge team against team.

live-updates-the-prada-cup

ETNZ won the ACWS, winning all but one of their races. Prada Pirelli won three. INEOS TEAM UK faced serious challenges, but are now perfectly poised for an incredible underdog story. With all teams keen for more learning time, 11-12 January were unofficial practice days. And, like a perfect comeback story, INEOS TEAM UK, showed good pace upwind and executed slick moves without splashdown. Needless to say, as we go into this weekend, anything is possible and it’s all to play for as we go into The PRADA Cup.

The PRADA Cup format will be held over the next seven weeks from 15 January to 22 February. On the first two weekends, there will be four round robins in which each challenger races each challenger. The round robin winner then goes straight to the final in February. The other two teams sail off in a best-of-seven semi-final. In February, two winners will compete in a first-to-seven wins to claim the PRADA Cup. When the Prada Cup winner meets ETNZ, it will have at least 19 races under its foils. That’s a big advantage as ETNZ will be watching from the water for the next weeks.

There has been doubt about whether the AC75 will deliver spectator thrills – that the speed differences will be too great or the challenges of foiling will dissuade teams from mixing it up. Do not fret – their beautiful foiling arms get so close they are almost shaking hands which, quite frankly, makes us close our eyes and shriek.

As each team looks for a competitive edge over the next couple of weeks, here are our thoughts:

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli is the only AC75 sailing with two helmsmen: both reputed to be street fighters. Australian Jimmy Spithill, whose comeback against NZ in 2013 is one of the best comebacks in all of sports, is king at getting penalties against the other boat. Francesco Bruni is Italy’s version of Jimmy and, if it works, it will mean Luna Rossa has a skilled helmsperson in control throughout all tacks and gybes.

INEOS TEAM UK’s Ben Ainslie is a multi-medal Olympic sailor in the one-man Finn class, and he was tune-up skipper for Dean Barker in ETNZ in 2007. He was also a part of the ORACLE TEAM USA comeback in 2013. His team now includes Olympians, Volvo Ocean Racers, and SailGP sailors. What a lineup! With this amount of time on the water with some of the America’s Cup best, they are perfectly poised for some incredible racing. INEOS TEAM UK is 100% still in the fight.

Every second counts like never before. Tacking duels have never seen stakes so high. Boats must be at their optimal performance. The sailors too. Communications onboard must be dialed in. For a team to advance to the finals PRADA Cup and then on to face the defender of the 36th America’s Cup, and not pack up a single bolt before, everything must be flawless. With this much on the line, we’ll all be on the edge of our seats over the next month.

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