Today all the build up and discussion ended and the points started to count in Auckland as the first two races of the PRADA Cup officially kicked off.
INEOS TEAM UK went from zero to hero by winning both races with solid starts, smooth sailing and protecting their leads over their opponents, both American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team respectively.
A result few people had predicted before today.
Race course C – sheltered between North Head and Bastion Point – was selected for today’s racing to take advantage of the predominant Southwest wind at start time. The right side of the course was strong all day and Ben Ainslie and his INEOS Team UK knew it.
RR1 R1 – INEOS TEAM UK beat New York Yacht Club American Magic
Current: 0.9 knots @ 330
Wind: 8-16knots / 215 degrees
As the clock counted down for the first race of the day, the pressure was on for both INEOS TEAM UK (GBR) and American Magic (USA), but for the British there was no doubt that the stress of not having won a single race since arriving in Auckland was weighing heavily on the entire team.
But when it came to crunch time Sir Ben Ainslie’s team appeared to have a strong game plan from the start.
As both boats entered the starting box there appeared to be little appetite for engagement on either side. With a minute to go both were out on the right hand side of the pre-start area. American Magic were the first to tack back onto starboard choosing to take the lower route back to the start line setting them up to leeward of their British opponents.
If Ainslie and Co had wanted the right hand side of the course and the windward side of the start they had got it as the gun went.
Both boats had made a perfect timed run into the start, crossing the line on time and at full speed. But as INEOS TEAM UK were the first to tack off onto port to head for the right hand side of the course, there were the first hints that the British favoured this side of the race track.
By the top gate INEOS TEAM UK were ahead by 11 seconds.
From here, the British were able to pick the side of the right hand side of the course which still had more breeze while also keeping a loose tactical cover on their opponents. Meanwhile American Magic took the left hand mark at the top gate, a move that cost them time by the bottom of the first downwind leg.
As the first lap was completed INEOS TEAM UK had stretched out their lead to 19 seconds.
Another lap of the course saw a big stretch in the distance between the pair to 1min 8 sec after lap two.
From there little changed, INEOS TEAM UK sailing confidently and accurately throughout to increase their lead to 1min 20 sec by the finish.
“That feels a lot better than six consecutive losses,” said skipper Ainslie shortly after the finish.” That was a good team effort.”
RR1 R2 – INEOS TEAM UK beat Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
Current: 0.2 knots @ 331
Wind – 16-22knots / 215
Winner: INEOS TEAM UK 0:28
As the British and Italian teams prepared for their match, the breeze was continuing to build reaching 16-22kts at Bean Rock towards the top of the race course. If previous performances were anything to go by these conditions were further into the British sweet spot and away from where the Italians have been most competitive.
But no one was taking anything for granted. All three teams had worked extensively on their boats and sailing techniques. They, as much as the spectators, were eager to find out whether they had improved and by how much.
In the pre-start, INEOS TEAM UK entered the start zone from the left hand side crossing Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli with ease. For the opening seconds neither team looked keen on engagement. As the clock counted down to the last minute and as both boats set up to come back to the start line on starboard tack a left handed wind shift meant that neither could cross the start line on starboard. From their windward and ahead position, INEOS TEAM UK were able to tack onto port for the start line and cross ahead – a narrow leading margin perhaps, but one that the British team held as they headed up the first beat.
Once again, Ainslie and his tactician Giles Scott looked to work the right hand side of the course where the breeze was still strongest. As they did so they were able to sail higher and faster than their opponents and force the Italians into their dirty air. This meant that Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were forced to tack off and head towards the lighter conditions on the left hand side of the course.
By the top gate INEOS TEAM UK rounded the right hand mark 15sec ahead of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.
By the bottom of the first downwind leg the British lead had stretched slightly to 22 sec but, as the pair headed up the second beat the Italian strategy was emerging, staying close and waiting for an opportunity to pounce was the name of the game.
It never happened.
Although they were able to whittle the British lead down to 13sec on the last windward gate rounding, by the finish INEOS TEAM UK had stretched out to win by 28sec.
Another dominant performance and a big turn around for a team that has bounced along the bottom since the start of racing last December.
The three challengers will spend the next four weeks fighting it out in the PRADA Cup to gain the right to go up against the defenders, Emirates Team New Zealand to race for the America’s Cup presented by PRADA in March.
Tomorrow Race 3 of RR1 will start at 3:15 PM NZT weather permitting and will see Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli vs American Magic. RR2 Race 1 will follow and will see INEOS TEAM UK vs American Magic.