Italy’s Luna Rossa beat Britain’s INEOS Team UK twice Sunday on a day of classic match-racing at high speeds to take a 4-0 lead in the first-to-seven-wins America’s Cup challenger series final.
For the first time in the regatta, the boats engaged in intense tacking duels — a tactic familiar to any competitive sailor — in which the leading and trailing boats threw in tack after tack as one protected its lead and the other sought to overturn it.
But these aren't any boats: the AC75 foiling monohulls attained speeds of more than 46 knots (85kph, 52mph) in a solid sea breeze and the crews, exchanging tacks, threw them around with daring and sharply-honed skill.
The right-hand side of the course, where the wind passed over the imposing, green bulk of Waiheke Island, was favored all day and, by crossing the start line first in both races, Luna Rossa was able to defend the right in an impeccable example of match racing.
Luna Rossa repeatedly tacked ahead of Britannia on each upwind leg, while Team UK sought to eat into the Italian team’s lead, impose pressure and force a mistake.
“A tacking duel in these boats is something we haven’t seen before,” Italian co-helmsman Francesco Bruni said.
In the first race, Luna Rossa didn’t lead by more than 18 seconds and held on to win by 13 seconds. In the second race an error by Team UK in the start box, when Britannia reared up, then fell back off its foils, conceded an advantage Luna Rossa retained throughout the race. It went on to win by 41 seconds.
Britain’s hopes of winning back the America’s Cup for the first time in 170 years — since it lost the trophy to the United States in the first-ever contest in 1851 — are now hanging by a thread. Team UK has to win seven of the remaining nine races to advance to the America’s Cup match against holder Team New Zealand. Racing resumes with two races on Wednesday.
“A tough day and we’re not happy with it,” Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie said. “We can sail a hell of a lot better than that.
“We just gave two races to those guys off the start line. We made too many so we have to go away, regroup and really get our act together for Wednesday and come out swinging.”
Luna Rossa appeared slick in winning the first two races of the Prada Cup final on Saturday and again sailed almost flawless races Sunday in protecting fragile leads.
“We’re very happy for the team, we’re very happy for Italy, we’re going well,” Bruni said. “But we have to keep focused, the focus has to be high.
“We can feel the cheers of the Italians behind us but we have to think of our job, execute well our job and we to have use tomorrow and the day after to keep improving.”
Bruni called the first race of the day “the first real match race” of the regatta.
Team UK had the advantage of port entry but a misstep allowed Luna Rossa to cross the line with a narrow advantage which enabled it to defend the right-hand side of the course for the rest of a tight race.
The British team concentrated in the pre-start on pursuing Luna Rossa and attempting to gain a “hook,” or overlap, which would give it right of way. But Luna Rossa slipped the noose, crossed the line first and immediately tacked away to take control of the right.
“We made a mess of the start, we got a bit greedy going for the hook,” Ainslie said. “With these match race starts you can go from hero to zero pretty quick and we got that one wrong.”
With its narrow advantage over the line and an apparent edge in upwind speed Luna Rossa was able to control the first leg, tacking on top of Team UK which stayed phase. Near the top of the first leg, Luna Rossa stretched out while Team UK put in an extra tack and the Italian boat rounded the mark with a 9 second lead.
Team UK might have been quicker downwind but Luna Rossa was able to retain control.
Britannia’s mishap in the second race again furnished Luna Rossa with an early lead which it was able to defend in a more commanding victory.
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