Advantage Luna Rossa. The smokin’ Italians are now just two wins from a spot in the America’s Cup challenger series final.
American Magic may have achieved a victory of sorts just making the start-line for Friday’s opening two races of the Prada Cup semifinal series in Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, but it was the Italian America’s Cup challengers who notched the wins that counted on the water as they charged away to a decisive 2-0 lead with back-to-back conclusive results.
Terry Hutchinson and his American team had to work night and day for the best part of a fortnight to get Patriot back in ship-shape after their capsize and shattered hull that required a major repair and electrical refit. It was a credit to them, and some generosity from their fellow competitors, that they were even able to re-enter the competition for this best-of-seven semifinal series.
But they still have a ton of work to do, if Friday afternoon’s pair of races are anything to go by, with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli streaking away to twin dominant victories – by 2min 43sec first up, and then doubling down with a 3:07 win in the second race that followed soon after in decreasing winds.
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Luna Rossa co-helmsmen Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni sailed a near perfect race first up in blustery winds pushing the 20-knot mark, winning the start hands down and sailing away to a victory that was never in doubt, even if American Magic did achieve the top speed of the contest with a staggering 53 knots (close to 100kmh).
Luna Rossa easy winner as Patriot narrowly avoids calamity with a rogue turn.
The winner of this matchup will meet INEOS Team UK in the Prada Cup final to determine the syndicate to challenge Team New Zealand for the Auld Mug.
The Americans clearly have issues that need addressing quickly. They had messy splashdown moments in both races and appeared to have control problems with their refashioned boat. Late in race 2 there was a near wipeout that had major overtones to what occurred just 12 days previous.
The Italians, on the other hand, appear to be getting better and better, both with boat speed and their sailing sharpness. There were few black marks on a positive day, with one rough jibe at the second gate of race 2 about their only serious error. Otherwise it was smooth sailing throughout.
The Italians grabbed race 1 by the lapels by manoeuvring themselves into a dominant position against Dean Barker and the Americans in the pre-start and taking a 200-metre advantage from the off.
From there it was steady as she goes from Luna Rossa as they led by 18s at the first of eight marks in the four-lap race. They increased their advantage to 22s at the second gate, to 33s by the third and by the same margin at the halfway point.
It was at the fifth mark that American Magic’s challenge fell away completely as they had fallen back to nearly a minute behind the Italians, and then suffered a splashdown in a messy manoeuvre that saw Luna Rossa streak out by 2:25 through the sixth gate.
From that point it was a one-boat race, with Luna Rossa coasting across the finish-line a decisive 2:43 clear of their rivals.
American Magic managed the top boat speed of 53.31 knots, compared to Luna Rossa’s 49.83, but sailed a far superior race all round, as evidenced by their distance sailed of 32,296m, compared with the 34,893 traversed by the Americans.
“We are super happy, winning the race in so much wind is always really, really good. It is maybe a double point I think,” said a delighted Bruni afterwards.
“We are hitting faster speeds every day. I think it’s the training we do and improvements to the boats. Everything is going faster and faster. This is a short course and it was full-on for four laps. Unbelievable.”
The Italians sailed a near carbon copy second race to dominate the off-kilter Americans in equally resounding fashion, winning the pre-start to round the first mark by 17s, extending that advantage by 5 seconds on the second leg, by another three on the third and sitting 37 seconds clear at the halfway point.
From there the American challenge petered away. Luna Rossa led by just over a minute at the fifth gate, by just under 2 minutes at the sixth and crossed the finish line with more than 3 minutes between them and the fading Patriot boat.
Bruni said the rough moment at the second gate of race 2 had provided a valuable lesson for his crew on the fine margins at play in this event.
“We were a little bit under the lay line, coming in hot,” he said. “We probably should have dropped the windward board, but it’s hard coming up at 45-plus knots, to drop that board doesn’t feel good.
“We had a skid sideways, we lost grip, and off she goes. But we regrouped after that and reacted very quickly, so I’m very proud of the boys.”
And he’s rapt with a 2-0 lead that puts the Italians within touching distance of a spot in the Prada Cup final.
“We are coming from not a great period … the last races we were not up to the standard we want. There was a little bit of tension.
“In the past the boat has not been the fastest in the strong wind. We knew we had made some big improvements in performance … but to see it on the water is a different feeling.”
Barker said though it wasn’t the result they were looking for, getting Patriot back out on the water and gaining some confidence with the boat again were crucial.
“We would have liked to have sailed a bit better, but these conditions are challenging,” he said.
American Magic skipper Hutchinson congratulated the Italians on an outstanding day, but said his crew would “come out swinging” on Saturday to keep their final hopes alive.
“We know Luna Rossa is a formidable team. On top of the conditions today being hard, I think we just have to sail better,” he said.
“Big hats off to everybody inside our shed … the engineers, the electricians, everybody who has gone to the efforts they have to get Patriot back out on the water. It is a short series and we’ve got some meat on the bone here and we have to keep working away at it.
“There’s a lot of fight in this team and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
Races 3 and 4 will take place, weather permitting, on Saturday.