WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli beat Britain’s INEOS Team UK in both races Saturday on the first day of the America’s Cup challenger series final in Auckland, taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-13 series.
Luna Rossa first exposed the British team’s vulnerability in light winds, winning the first race by 1 minute, 52 seconds, then was still quick and sailed flawlessly when it won the second race by 20 seconds in a stiffening sea breeze.
Team UK wasn’t able to stay on its foils in the pre-start before race one and Luna Rossa, which was much more stable in the light breeze, sailed away to a convincing win. British skipper Ben Ainslee said “one team could get up and foils and the other couldn’t. That was the story.”
The wind was stronger for the second race but Luna Rossa, showing versatility, again had a slight speed edge and superbly defended the slight advantage it held when the boats crossed first on the first leg.
Luna Rossa now needs five more race wins to earn the right to face defender Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup match next month, also in Auckland. Two more races are due be sailed on Sunday, likely in moderate wind conditions.
“It was a good day,” Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill said. “The boat was performing very, very well. We’re confident of our boat but, having said that, we’re still mindful there’s still quite a bit there on the table.”
The wind for the start of the first race was near the 6.5-knot lower limit in which racing can take place and both teams needed a tow from their chase boats to get up on their foils before the start. Once up, Luna Rossa looked in its element, crewed by sailors used to racing in the light and fickle winds of the Mediterranean.
Luna Rossa has made numerous changes to its race boat since the Prada Cup semifinal in which it beat U.S. team American Magic 4-0. It has a new mast, sported a new sail livery including a larger jib for the first race.
Given port entry to the start, Luna Rossa dived down deep into the start area and Team UK tried to follow. But when Luna Rossa turned back for its timed run to the line about a minute before the start, the British race boat Britannia fell off its foils and was left wallowing.
Luna Rossa crossed the line with a large advantage which it increased at every mark—1 minute, 20 seconds at the first mark, 1:36 at the second, 1:54 at the third, 1:57 at the fourth and 2:03 at the last.
The straight-line speed of the boats seemed even, especially as the breeze filled in as the race progressed. Britannia hit the highest speed of the race when it clocked 41.9 knots approaching the fourth mark. But the British boat struggled to move as crisply as Luna Rossa in the light breeze.
The second race was sailed in around 12 to 17 knots of wind: what Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni called “a true sea breeze.”
The British team looked much stronger but Luna Rossa still held an edge. The boats crossed the start line evenly with Luna Rossa to windward. Team UK extended its starboard tack to the boundary while Luna Rossa tacked away.
When the boats came together again with Luna Rossa on starboard tack, the Italian boat was just in front and Team UK had to dip to cross behind. That gave Luna Rossa a slight advantage and it rounded the first mark 11 seconds ahead.
“We got off, we were able to hang for a little while but obviously not all the way to the boundary,” Spithill said. “We kind of liked the ride as we were heading up there.”
Ainslie said Team UK will now have to “go away and think about how we can get a bit more pace.
“Once one boat is in front, and credit to Luna Rossa, they have a great team and were pretty hard to get past.” Ainslee said.
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