Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli finally got the redemption they were looking for, winning the PRADA Cup Semi-Final by scoring four points in a row.
The Italians started firmly in the driver’s seat ahead of today’s races and needed only two more wins to claim a place in the PRADA Cup Final against INEOS TEAM UK.
The Americans, who had already won their race against time after their AC75 almost sunk less than two weeks ago, had to find some magic to bring PATRIOT back to the performances she had before. They had to win at least one match to keep their Semi-Final alive.
But the Italians won the starts and were just faster, steadier and more confident. Without any real pressure, they didn’t make any mistakes and sailed to two easy wins.
Light winds forecast proved wrong and stable breeze from North East between 11-14 knots allowed the Race Committee to start both races right on time on Course A.
Semi-Final Race 3
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli beat New York Yacht Club American Magic
Current: 0.2 knots @ 009
Wind 12kts / 030
Winner: Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (ITA) – 0:35
No one needed any convincing as to how important today’s racing was. The pressure was on, and if there was a lesson to be learned from yesterday’s racing for the Americans, it was that they had to win, or at least be even at the start.
When American Magic delivered a different approach to the pre-start, lining up to leeward of Luna Rossa as both boats headed in towards the start, the Americans did appear to have set themselves up for a stronger start.
In the event it was even; American Magic at the pin end, Luna Rossa at the committee boat end. From here it was a drag race to the boundary.
Once there, both boats tacked onto port simultaneously and lined up for another straight line duel, this time towards the right hand boundary.
But sitting just to windward and astern of the Italians put the Americans in dirty air, a position that they struggled to maintain, and a few minutes later they were forced to tack off. This was the first evidence of what would turn out to be a pattern of strong defensive play by Luna Rossa.
By the first gate, Luna Rossa were 13 seconds ahead. By the bottom of the first downwind leg, they had squeezed a few more seconds out to lead by 22 secs.
While there was now a physical distance of around 300m between the two, it was clear that Luna Rossa were taking nothing for granted, tacking to cover each time American Magic tried to break free; “keeping the foot on the throat” before they tacked yet again to cover their opponents. Picking the side of the course that they wanted and controlling the situation – this was textbook match racing from the Italians.
By Gate 3 they had stretched out more distance to lead by 41sec. The race looked like it was only going one way. And yet by Gate 4 American Magic had pulled the gap down to 18sec; could they claw back from here?
By the top gate for the last time, the answer was no. Luna Rossa was the faster boat upwind, and while Patriot seemed quicker downwind, it was not enough for the Americans to pull themselves back into the race.
By the end, Luna Rossa crossed the finish line 35sec ahead. They had sailed another perfect race. One more win and they would be on for the Prada Cup final…could they smell victory?
“No, no, we don’t smell anything,” said Francesco Bruni after the race. “We don’t smell anything yet!”
Semi-Final Race 4
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli beat New York Yacht Club American Magic
Current: 0.1 knots @ 199
Wind 16kts / 035
Winner: Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (ITA) – 3:51
This was it; do or die for the American campaign, and the chance for the Italians to move straight to the Prada Cup final. The breeze was now up to 16kts throwing another set of conditions into the mix. Could this deliver the difference required to keep the PRADA Cup Semi-Final alive for another day?
This time ,American Magic were entering the start zone from the left-hand side on port tack, and did so with perfect timing and at pace. Next came a hint of a different strategy as American Magic headed out towards the right-hand side of the pre-start zone.
But while this might have been a subtly different opening move, Luna Rossa were still focussed on what had worked before and were aiming to gain control in the pre-start.
As both boats closed in on the starting line as the clock counted down, American Magic were to leeward hoping to force Luna Rossa up, but they weren’t close enough and didn’t have the pace to accelerate into a controlling position. Luna Rossa took the start while American Magic were forced to tack off onto port.
American hopes now were that the right-hand side of the course would be favoured, but at the first cross it was anything but as Luna Rossa passed 130m ahead.
This was not looking good for American Magic; they were on the defensive as Luna Rossa controlled the game perfectly once again. Poised, polished and perfect, it was difficult to see how American Magic could take this race unless the Italians made a mistake. At this stage there was precious little evidence to support anything other than another Italian win.
In fact, things were about to get worse for American Magic as their starboard cant arm refused to go down ahead of a tack onto port. Eventually it did, but not before they had overstood the layline into Gate 1.
By the time the Americans rounded they were 45sec behind, but their troubles weren’t over yet as techincal isses continued. Then came a boundary infringement and a penalty; not that it made much difference, with the distance to Luna Rossa now at 1500m.
By the time the Americans rounded Gate 3, Luna Rossa were 2min 42sec ahead. By Gate 4, the time difference was 2min 36, the distance over 2,000m.
Only a disaster on the part of the Italians would reverse what looked like the inevitable. As it happened, the breeze had built further and keeping a cool calm and collected was becoming increasingly important to avoid tripping up.
A few minutes later Luna Rossa crossed the finish line to win their fourth race in a row, a win that now launches them to the PRADA Cup Final against INEOS Team UK.
Their victory had been well deserved. Since the start of the semi-final the Italian performance had been pitch perfect across a wide range of conditions. In just a few days between the Round Robin and the semi-final they had turned their performance around.
“Now for the INEOS boys,” was the call as they crossed the finish.
While they would doubtless celebrate this win, the Italian team’s focus had already shifted.
QUOTES FROM THE RACE COURSE
FRANCESCO BRUNI – Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Helmsman
“I think American Magic have done a fantastic job being back after what they have gone through. Their boat was a good boat, their team was a great team and it’s sad because they are great competitors.
“If we keep improving the performance of the boat, with this speed, there will be some very good racing against Ben Ainslie and his Britannia. It’s all about improving, improving, improving.
“In the first race of the day we sailed better upwind, we know that our foils are a little bit bigger and we can play the high mode strategically in some moments of the race. We needed it.”
TERRY HUTCHINSON – Skipper & Executive Director of New York Yacht Club American Magic
“The last four races weren’t our best but the highest praise for the entire American Magic team overcoming what we did to get the boat back out on the water, it would have been easy to stop.
“It’s obviously disappointing. There’s not a person inside our team that likes losing, so in that you have 135 Type A personalities all pushing for the same goal, the same result.
“I think what you saw when Patriot got back out on the water was a high level of resolve from the entire team to make sure not to let the programme end like that.
“I have nothing but pride for what we’ve done over the last three and half years. Obviously our measure is the result sheet, so without question that is the most disappointing part, but all we can do is take it on the chin, understand our strengths and weaknesses from here, and move the whole thing forward. If we’re fortunate enough to be back in the 37th America’s Cup, we’ll learn from these mistakes and we’ll be better for it”.
Despite the Herculean effort of putting PATRIOT back on the water, American Magic are now eliminated from the PRADA Cup.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli jump rightfully to the Final against INEOS TEAM UK less than two weeks away. The Italians, who seem to have find the pace after a limping Round Robin, will be hard opponents to beat for the British team.
With such change in fortunes in only nine days of racing since the first AC75 match on the 17th of December, it’s impossible to predict who will be the 36th America’s Cup Challenger and there is plenty to watch out for in the coming weeks.
The 13-race Final between the two leading teams will start on the 13th of February. The first team to score seven points will win the PRADA Cup and face the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand.