After a week of storms ashore, Ineos Team UK won one of two races sailed in a shifting breeze yesterday to raise the faint hint of a comeback in the America’s Cup Challenger Series final against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.
As racing resumed after a week’s delay, Luna Rossa won the fifth race of the Prada Cup final by 1 minute, 20 seconds to lead 5-0 in the first-to-seven series.
Faced with the possibility of match point, Team UK expertly called the shifts to win the second race by 14 seconds and keep the series alive after six races.
Two races today are to decide whether Britain’s Team UK continues in the series or whether Italy’s Luna Rossa win their way into next month’s America’s Cup match against defenders Emirates Team New Zealand.
“No high fives yet,” Luna Rossa cohelmsman Francesco Bruni said after the first race of the day with the prescience of a sailor who knows that nothing can be taken for granted in the America’s Cup.
In 2013 Oracle Team USA came from 8-1 down in the Cup match to beat Team New Zealand 9-8 in one of the great comebacks in sport.
All the evidence of yesterday’s racing seemed to suggest, and British skipper Ben Ainslie said, that the Luna Rossa is faster than the Britannia in a straight line in light winds.
However, the second race of the day showed the advantage held by a leading boat. Team UK were ahead at the first cross for the first first time in the series and, sailed flawlessly, stayed there.
“The guys did a great job,” Ainslie said. “They’re not going to give up these boys, they’re going to keep fighting all the way.”
Team UK were not happy to be racing in mostly light winds, which favored their opponents, and their win was more impressive in those circumstances.
“I think, and most people can see, that at 13 knots [24kph] and above, the boats are pretty even, but underneath that we struggle,” Ainslie said. “They know it, we know it and that’s the challenge we’re up again.”
Luna Rossa, who control the Prada Cup as the Challenger of Record, had the ability to demand that racing resume after a week-long break due to a small community outbreak of COVID-19 in Auckland that pushed the city to a “level 3” alert, at which racing generally cannot take place.
When Auckland moved to “level 2” at midnight on Wednesday, Luna Rossa were eager to immediately get back on the water.
However, they were opposed by regatta organizers America’s Cup Events, which only reluctantly accepted a resumption yesterday.
In a bitter and angry dispute, the organizers accused Luna Rossa of poor sportsmanship, and of failing to honor and respect New Zealanders, who have funded the event and whose effort in limiting community spread of the virus made it possible.
Luna Rossa insisted that racing was permitted at level 2 and should go ahead, though Team UK suggested that they acted out of self-interest because they knew that conditions would be light.
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