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The day the dream ended


“It’s been a wild ride,” said Sir Ben Ainslie as he and his team, Ineos Team UK, picked up their defeat after race 8 in Prada Cup Finals. Talk about troughs and peaks and, finally, a trough. On Britannia, affectionately known as Rita, they had sailed through a total drubbing in the America’s Cup World Series in December last year to the cape-flying success of the Round Robins, for which he was presented the Christmas Cup.

“It’s a nice cup,” Ainslie said, “but it’s not the one we came for.”

But as Ineos Team UK waited for an opponent in the Finals, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli was honing its skills in the semi-finals. It was hard to pick just how sharp their blade would be: at that stage American Magic had experienced its own peak-to-trough journey, but Jimmy Spithill was adamant that racing was the best way to train for racing.

And he was right. Prada Pirellli made mistake after mistake. Then, they didn’t.

Spithill paid credit to Ben Ainslie and his men for handing them a ‘Must Try Harder’ card in the round robins.

“Ben is definitely one those guys who, funnily enough, has made me better,” said Spithill, “because anytime you go up against this guy, you have to be at the top of your game.”

When Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli lined up against Ineos Team UK at the Finals, it had slick moves and a race-dominating high mode in light airs: what a weapon against a team that had consistently struggled in the light – and light conditions dominated the series.

There was a brief ray of hope when Ineos Team UK won race 6, but Prada Pirelli’s superior speed and agility won seven wins in eight races.

But light breezes were not the only reason.

After being thrashed by Ineos Team UK, Luna Rossa developed foils and sails, a modified mast, and improved, in-house software which gave it exact time-on-distance for the start and precise data for boundaries and manoeuvres against the other boat. Since Ineos copped several boundary penalties, not always for boat handling issues, software may have been a factor.

Then there’s the underneath hull shape. Early on, we obsessed with the skiff-versus-scow debate; now we’ve moved on to other factors, but as Challenger of Record, Prada Pirelli had an early insight as it co-wrote the America’s Cup Protocol with Emirates Team New Zealand. Prada Pirelli has immense confidence in its design process, which is why its second-generation boat is so similar to its first. Its skiff-like hull foils easily and recovers from splashdown easily.

That was a weakness for Ineos Team UK. In the light, it needed a big jib to get out of the water, even if that sail choice wasn’t optimum for the race. Ironically, at those apparent wind speeds, a big jib can create more drag than speed advantage.

But perhaps the biggest benefit for Prada Pirelli from its semi-finals against American Magic was polishing its co-helmsmen/co-flight controller combination of the Australian-Italian, laconic-passionate Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni.

Sirena’s leadership has ensured that the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts - and the parts are darn good. Sirena says that he has the world’s best Italian America’s Cup skipper on port and the world’s best Australian America’s Cup skipper on starboard, but then Sirena chuckled and shook his head like a father of two siblings: “It has been a difficult process. They are both super-talented. They are pretty different. They respect each other and they push one against the other to get better and better.”

In taking the congratulations, Spithill took a swipe at another adversary: the media.

“In the round robins, a lot of you guys sitting in this room were writing us off, but we worked hard and we just got stronger and stronger.” Ouch.

Ainslie is bitterly disappointed that his luggage is not 14.5

kg heavier, but he’s earned immense respect for showing consistent Brit grit and can be proud of the mark he has left on America’s Cup challenge 2021.

Photo: Max Sirena, Prada skipper, gets a champagne shampoo while Jimmy Spithill sloshes the Prada Cup. © COR 36 | Studio Borlenghi

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