New Zealand

Ben Ainslie hits out at Luna Rossa in Prada Cup race delay row – can he engineer another miracle comeback?

Sir Ben Ainslie has accused Luna Rossa of “lacking perspective” in refusing to allow this weekend’s Prada Cup action to be pushed back due to a local outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland. Ineos Team UK’s skipper added that their protestations had been almost “Machiavellian” in nature.

The Italians, who lead Ineos 4-0 in the first-to-seven series to determine who goes through to face New Zealand in next month’s America’s Cup match, insisted that racing continued as soon as possible once Auckland dropped from a Level 3 lockdown to a Level 2 lockdown overnight on Wednesday. 

That was despite the America’s Cup Event authority [ACE] wanting to delay by as much as a week to give Auckland time to drop back to Level 1, which would have allowed fans back into the race village.

Luna Rossa, who as Challenger of Record have a right of veto over changes to the protocols, said that was a non-starter, arguing the rules could not be changed at this stage and that racing had to be completed by February 24 or else the challenger with the most points would go through. 

Additionally, they said, pushing back the Prada Cup would have meant less time for the winner to prepare for the America’s Cup match, which is due to start on March 6.

Ainslie, whose team were not consulted at any stage, was unimpressed. “I just think the whole thing’s lacking a bit of perspective,” he said ahead of the resumption of racing overnight tonight [Fri].

“You think about what’s going on in the world; what New Zealand have done in terms of opening up for the event and hosting us all. They have done a fantastic job in hosting us in the first place. It makes sense that the public and the spectators and stakeholders can share in it.”

Ainslie added the argument that the winner would have less time to prepare for the Cup was in any case bogus as defenders Team New Zealand were happy for the Cup to be pushed back by a week. 

He also pointed out Luna Rossa have been happy to tweak rules when it suited them to do so. 

“They’ve changed the rule on the [upper] wind limit,” he said. “They conveniently took the 15-minute delay card away from the Americans when they were vulnerable after having sunk their boat [in the round robins] – and then stuck it back in as soon as the Americans were eliminated. 

“All these Machiavellian comments coming out [now]. It’s just classic. As I say, it’s lacking perspective.”

Ainslie said the fact that light winds have been forecast for this weekend – Luna Rossa are known to have the faster boat in light airs – was no doubt “part of” the Italians’ thinking. But he insisted he was still confident that his team –who have doing eight-hour practice sessions on the water – could turn it around. 

“It’s not going to be easy. But yeah, we can turn this around for sure. It’s obvious we’ve got to start winning some races. We’ve got to win the starts. If you’re able to do that and then make the right decisions on where the best wind is on the course, then we can stay ahead.”

Can Ineos turn it around?

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