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America’s Cup Challengers: The view from Auckland

Matthew Sheahan, who is in Auckland for the 36th America’s Cup, analyses the different options for the Prada Cup finalists.

Reversing the odds over the space of four weeks where the worst performing America’s Cup team became the best and vice versa, was on nobody’s radar down here in Auckland before January, writes Matthew Sheahan. It isn’t just the pundits that have been surprised by the complete turn around in fortunes in the Challengers’ camp, the teams have been shocked too.

Among them was American Magic, who had never expected to be so comprehensively thrashed in the opening two Round Robins. After the first two weekends of the Prada Cup they nearly lost their entire campaign after ripping a hole in the bottom of their boat in a dramatic capsize, and were having to perform a major re-build simply to stay in the game.

Having been the only team to beat the Defenders Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup World Series (and before that in a practice race), the New York YC entry had gone into the Christmas break as the favourites among the challengers. Just a few weeks later they were not just down, but very nearly out.

Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

With such major structural repairs to complete they were unable to take part in Round Robins 3 & 4. Instead, they were in their own race against the clock to get back on the water in time for the semi final against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. Whilst the shore team performed miracles, the hastily repaired Patriot simply couldn’t keep pace with an improving Luna Rossa and American Magic lost in straight sets to be the first team to exit the Cup.

British America’s Cup team surprise

The Italians, meanwhile, had been denied a path straight to the Prada Cup final after INEOS Team UK continued their winning streak to deliver the finishing touches to an unbeatable 6-0 score line in just one day of racing. With nine lead changes over the course of a 27-minute race and top speeds exceeding 50 knots, the British/Italian match will surely go down as one of the most thrilling and spectacular in modern Cup history.

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Ainslie and co’s turnaround from their dismal performance before Christmas was as surprising as the cargo hold-sized hole in the bottom of the American boat. Yet the British also found themselves with more time than they had expected to be able to effect major changes.

Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

For the British a jump to the Prada Cup final has allowed them to consider some more significant modifications and refinements than were available to Luna Rossa, who had just four days between the round robin and semi-final races.

The British have had the time to be bold and take the next big step, assuming there were steps to take and that they hadn’t cleaned out the toy cupboard in the major Christmas upgrade. With their huge team of designers and engineers and their link to the Mercedes muscle on the component design and manufacturing front this seemed unlikely.

We will discover what performance gains they have managed to achieve on February 13, when INEOS Team UK race Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in the first match of the Prada Cup final.

From there, the winner of the Prada Cup final will go head to head with Emirates Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup: we will have to wait until mid-February to find out who.

If it is the British it will be the first time that Britain has been the successful challenger since 1964. It will also be the first time that a British team has been successful in the challenger selection series. Whichever way you look at it, a big deal.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team leader, Max Sirrena looks on as his team train. Photo: COR 36/Studio Borlenghi

If the Italians lift the Prada Cup this will be the second time that Luna Rossa have made it to the America’s Cup, the first being in 2000. They have been trying to have another crack at it ever since.

Yet the biggest task will still remain beating the home team, and this still looks to be very difficult. While the Kiwi technical advantage has been reduced, they are still believed to be along way ahead. Their weak points seem to be in some areas of match racing and their own ability to trip up (their capsize before Christmas demonstrated that, but they have also had several nerve tingling near misses). They are certainly not invincible.


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