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Ben pulls a fast one on Jimmy

Yesterday, 20 February 2021, Ineos Team UK won its first race in the Prada Cup Finals against Prada Pirelli. If he hadn’t, Prada Pirelli would have been on match point to win the series.

But Ineos did win. And we were so excited about that, we missed what did not happen. At least twice.

The day began pretty much as expected. Ainslie promised he wouldn’t go down without a fight as he led Britannia into battle. The Covid-19 alert in New Zealand had postponed two days of racing. That had given Ineos five consecutive days to find the speed and agility it needed to have control over its destiny. But Prada hadn’t been locked up in lockdown either; they would also have some tools to bring into battle.

Neither team could make major boat modifications, so Ineos practiced their light airs skills.

“Some of these racing techniques, particularly through the manoeuvres, are very subtle,” said Ainslie. “There is so much that goes into a single manoeuvre, from the sequencing of changing the load between the boards, the main and jib transfers, and more.”

Then they went to marriage counselling: “The more the teams race,” Ainslie added, “the better we are at figuring each other’s play in the pre-starts.”

Race 5 started with a game of: Who’s Got the Biggest Jib? Ineos Team UK did, except in AC75 racing, the person with the smallest jib wins the bluffing competition. This is because, in light winds, the AC75 needs a big sail to get out of the water, but once it’s up and foiling, that power becomes drag. Prada brought a smaller jib, because its boat needs less power for lift-off. Ouch for Ineos Team UK.

In the pre-start, it was clear that Spithill wanted the right – and that Ainslie really, really wanted it. Spithill was to leeward, just before the start line and tight on the right hand end, when he shut the door on Ineos Team UK.

Ainslie had a choice: barge for the line or bail out into oblivion. He barged.

Then Spithill pulled out the first of his new moves: he brought Luna Rossa into a high, slow mode beneath Britannia. And showed the world that AC75 can do a luff-up.

Who knew?

Well, that was dramatic. Ineos emerged from that with three penalties: one for barging, one for being over the line – as was Prada; and one for getting into Prada’s personal space, electronically-speaking; ie, on the umpire’s screen that shows digital boundaries around each boat.

As Spithill pulled the accelerator, his boat did a big splash down but survived.

And no one really noticed what had just happened. Or, to be accurate, not happened.

Ineos Team UK’s penalties gave Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli the advantage it needed, and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli led at every mark to win the race.

Unfortunately, race 6 was likely to go the same way, especially because Spithill had another new move he had been practiciing.

Both boats were headed for the start line, with Ineos Team UK to leeward and ahead, when Spithill dived down to make big swoops behind Ineos like a collie dog chasing cattle into a corner. Spithill’s motive, presumably, was to make Ineos wriggle to get clear, which would make it lose speed, which would make if fall off its foils.

Again, it didn’t happen.

Instead, Spithill lost his own speed and crossed the line late.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli’s loss of speed gave Ineos Team UK the advantage it needed, and Ineos Team UK led at every mark to win the race.

Yes, you have read that sentence before, but now the names have swapped places.

Twice, Ineos survived situations that, a week ago, would probably have taken it to splashdown. Ainslie took control of race 6, threw in some lee-bow tacks and led at every mark to win by 14 seconds.

Yesterday, Ineos had the element of surprise. Spithill won’t fall for it today.

Photos: © COR 36 | Studio Borlenghi

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