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America's Cup Rialto: January 12 - Practice Day 2 - Odds shortened as Brits make gains.

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 12 Jan 12:09 GMT 11 January 2021
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli - January 12, 2021 - Course E, Hauraki Gulf - Auckland - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell - Sail-World.com / nz

Ben Ainslie and friends will be sleeping a lot easier tonight in Auckland, after a solid performance on the two days of practice racing, ahead of the start of the Prada Cup on Friday.

After a nightmare regatta in the America's Cup World Series, in mid-December, INEOS Team UK got a flogging from the armchair experts, most of whom have never seen an AC75 sailing other than on video.

It was easy to focus on the obvious - the stickiness of Britannia II in light winds - and some reliability issues on the first day of the three day ACWS. The Xmas Cup wasn't much better - with the only race exceeding its time limit as the Brits were up the Kiwi's transom, but a lap behind Emirates Team New Zealand.

After two days of practice racing there is no doubt that the British have lifted their game. Although denied for three weeks, the series was initiated only last Friday by a decision of the Arbitration Panel, the judicial body for the regatta following American Magic's concern over issues with the Race Management System.

It is the final practice for the Prada Cup, a six-week series to select a team to challenge America's Cup holder Emirates Team New Zealand in the 36th Match for the most prestigious trophy in sailing, which gets underway on Friday. It is also the last racing with another AC75 that Emirates Team NZ will enjoy until the America's Cup Match on March 6.

The short notice given for the Practice Racing means that not too much can be read into the four teams' relative performances. It is likely that the three Challengers could have some developments to be implemented and tested in the days that were taken for Practice Racing.

Today the British were up against Italy's Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in a series of five scheduled practice sessions comprising a practice start; a start and a one lap windward leeward; a start and two windward leewards; another practice start; and finishing with a start and a two lapper.

The second pairing saw American Magic pitched against Emirates Team New Zealand.

For the first time, in all the racing conducted in Auckland, we had a beautiful 13-18kt NE seabreeze - it stayed constant for most of the day - went a little soggy a one stage mid-late afternoon, before piping in again. Racing was staged, as yesterday on Course E - except today the AC75's were sailing at the western end of Course E - between Motuihe Island and Eastern Beach.

The lingering question over this practice series, as with the five days of practice before the America's Cup World Series in mid-December, is how seriously was it being taken by the teams?

Today, practice starts, maybe to the surprise of critics of the AC75, moved more and more into the realm of traditional matchracing. However the loss and acquisition of rights under the racing rules happens very quickly in the foiling monohull sailing at speeds in excess of 40kts in the pre-start. Interestingly all competitors engaged in pre-start combat to various degrees. There were no attempts at slingshot, or timed run starts. The starts usually ended with the loser pulling up short - either on the line or just afterward.

The windward leewards also begged the question as to whether they were being sailed at race-pace, or just enough to maintain contact. On occasions we saw one boat get a significant advantage only to back off, waiting for their opponent to close the gap, and then starting racing going again.

Todays' head turning moment again belonged to Emirates Team New Zealand, who won the same award yesterday with their flop dive/capsize. Today it was the sound of grinder (the pneumatic kind) starting up between races as the Kiwis cut into a piece of carbon sheet to effect a minor repair between races.

The report card for the two days looks something like this:

Luna Rossa - a good all round performance. Only tested against American Magic, on Monday and INEOS Team UK on Tuesday and didn't compete against Emirates Team New Zealand. Always looked consistently fast. Few handling errors noticed. Of the four teams, Luna Rossa is the one that seems to touch down the most. Could probably improve their flight control. The jury is still out on whether their two helmsmen is a must-do for all the teams, or if it is a way for the Italians to work around the fact that they have two talented helmsmen, in Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni, and don't want to have to decide the better of the two. But it is surprising that the kiwi bookies have Luna Rossa (2.35) behind American Magic to be the winner of the Prada Cup.

American Magic - consistent but did not fare well against Emirates Team New Zealand today, losing the last race by around 25 seconds, after the Kiwis let go and sailed at their race pace. However the US team may just have elected to throttle back and not risk a capsize or other damage with the start of the Prada Cup just three days way. In their other race they had the Kiwis stitched going into the top mark, after winning the start and maintaining their advantage. Like they did yesterday with INEOS Team UK, the Kiwis were able to hit the elevator at the crucial phase, get a small lead and work it into a substantial one. No conclusions on Patriot's new "Batwing" main - it is certainly different from the much fatter heads of the other three. Will be interesting to see if they chose to to declare it tomorrow and stay with it on Friday. One suspects that will be the case. Today they had their conventionally headed mainsail. The bookies have New York Yacht Club team is at short odds of 1.75 to win the Prada Cup and 4.25 to win the America's Cup.

INEOS Team UK - the big improver over the past month. Not entirely clear what they have done. They have settled on the more conventional wing shape for this series, and not running with their radical "W" foils. Performed well against Emirates Team New Zealand yesterday winning their only race after the Kiwis capsized, and pacing the Kiwis on several runs before their session started. Crew work is slick. The Ghost of Christmas Past did seem to pay a visit fir a few minutes today, when the wind went soft, and INEOS came off her foils after a tack, when they were on top of Luna Rossa and in control. Hopefully it was a minor breakdown, otherwise the Brits have a seriously point of weakness against the other teams, that would require a full series with plenty of wind, and easy foiling. Hard to understand why they stuck with a J2 jib in the light - which left them underpowered, when they need it most. The bookies have shortened their odds to 6.0 (down from 8.0) to win the Prada Cup.

Emirates Team New Zealand - the Kiwis definitely have a fifth gear, afterburner, whatever - that can be turned on when required. It would seem that their speed has been reigned in for much of their sailing, and when unleashed there is no answer. Seem to be able to use this speed to get themselves out of very awkward situations, including sailing at a very high angle in mark rounding situations - at will. Saw it yesterday against the Brits and again today against American Magic.

Come the Cup they will need all the speed they can muster as the challengers should improve significantly with hard racing over six weeks. Their third capsize is some concern however the data will be useful in the simulator, and should enable some solutions to be worked through. May need to learn when to back off a little. The Kiwi fans and media critics will have to get used to the idea, that Burling and friends don't have to win every start; their first day of the Cup might not be that great, but through the middle they are fine, and can usually bring it all together without too much fuss at the end. The team and crew are on their second Cup campaign which will work for them when they come under pressure nearer and during the Match. The Olympic squad core of the crew are well used to pressure sailing.

Having a crew loaded with flair and bravado is a big asset for any team, but it is also a weakness - and a key test will be to develop a wise head on young shoulders, and being able to sail within the capabilities that the crew can deliver. While pushing and finding the limits is what practice racing is all about, staying within those limits is what race-craft is all about. How many times in Rugby or League do we see a player push a flip pass to a support team member, only to have a sharp-eyed opponent snatch an intercept, and score at the other end.

In Bermuda the Kiwis were notable for the patience they exhibited when behind in tight racing, making their speed move when the passing lane opened up. This brilliance will return for the 36th Match, and what has been seen in training won't be repeated come the America's Cup Match - where there will be plenty of opportunity to unleash the speed advantage currently held by Emirates Team New Zealand.

The Kiwis are on odds of 1.37 to retain the Cup with American Magic on 4.25, Luna Rossa up a point to 7.00 and INEOS Team UK down from on 21.00 to 13.00 to win the America's Cup.

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