36th America's Cup: Sir Ben Ainslie hails 'full-on race' for INEOS TEAM UK in PRADA Cup
The British team remain unbeaten in the PRADA Cup and move straight into the final after a thrilling contest against the Italians. The lead changed nine times throughout the nail-biting race before INEOS TEAM UK triumphed
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 23/01/21 12:50pm
Sir Ben Ainslie believes that INEOS TEAM UK's contest against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team at the end of the PRADA Cup Round Robins was one of the most exciting races he's been involved in.
The British America's Cup team went onto the water knowing that a victory would secure them a place in the PRADA Cup final and mean that they are able to bypass the series' semi-finals.
The PRADA Cup must be won to become the challenger to Emirates Team New Zealand in March's 36th America's Cup match, and now INEOS TEAM UK have three weeks to prepare for the next stage of their quest.
In contrast, the other challengers - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team and New York Yacht Club American Magic - must be back out on the water in just six days time for the PRADA Cup semi-finals.
New York Yacht Club American Magic are continuing to put their race boat PATRIOT back together after its dramatic capsize, and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team are going into the semi-finals off the back of a loss.
For seasoned America's Cup fans and new fans alike, the contest between INEOS TEAM UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team on Saturday had it all.
The start was delayed twice; first due to the breeze shifting back and forth across the race course and then when INEOS TEAM UK played their 'delay card'.
The reason for that was a problem with the cunningham, one of the key controls for the mainsail, and it was something INEOS TEAM UK would have to contend with throughout their critical race.
"It was a full-on race," Ainslie said after the race. "It was one of the most exciting races I've ever been involved in.
"We didn't have much time for preparation, we had a few issues with the control of the boat but once we got into the race, it was just one of those fantastic battles that you have against great competitors.
"I think that there were nine lead changes or something like that! Then, coming down to the finish there was the nail-biting port-starboard cross.
"The team did a fantastic job; it was really a privilege to be a part of it."
PRADA Cup Round Robins - Final Standings
|INEOS TEAM UK||6||0||6|
|Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team||3||3||3|
|New York Yacht Club American Magic||0||6||0|
Managing technical issues
Not only did INEOS TEAM UK have the conditions and a motivated Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team to contend with, but the cunningham issues on board BRITANNIA were an unwelcome guest.
The cunningham is the system which works to adjust the mainsail tension. They waited until the very last minute before playing their 'delay card' in order to have the maximum time to fix the issue.
Despite crew members working hard on board, INEOS TEAM UK had to race at a disadvantage and Ainslie praised his team for their ability to remain calm and work with the challenges they had.
"We were compromised in that we weren't able to control that cunningham; changing gears around the race course was difficult for us," Ainslie said.
"The Italians sailed a great race; we know they are strong competitors and it proved to be the case
"We had a fantastic race and credit to the team for sticking to it. The boys got the boat around the course and we got there in the end."
A team effort
When the America's Cup racing commenced in December with the warm-up races - the PRADA America's Cup World Series Auckland and PRADA Christmas Race - INEOS TEAM UK found themselves in a really difficult position.
After 46,000 construction hours and 90,000 design hours, BRITANNIA was not performing as INEOS TEAM UK had hoped.
Instead of ripping along the water and winning match races, their performances were not on a par with their competitors, particularly in the lighter winds.
However, the team spent the 26 days between those warm-up races and the start of the PRADA Cup, working around the clock to identify key issues and make vital modifications.
Now, they have emerged out of the PRADA Cup Round Robins unbeaten with five victories from five races. BRITANNIA sails like a completely different boat and the experience of Ainslie and tactician Giles Scott is able to come to the fore.
"I can't say enough about the team, on and off the water. For the sailors, we haven't had the best preparation for this competition and that's been well documented," Ainslie said.
"The way that they've approached this, and the time that we have had on the water, the team are handling the boat really, really well.
"They're doing it as well as anyone else, that's given us the opportunity to make the right decisions and come through in these races. It really is a team effort to have sorted things out from where we were a few weeks ago."
Sunday's racing will now not take place, as INEOS TEAM UK have secured six points and won the PRADA Cup Round Robins through their victory over Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team and successfully finishing their 'ghost race'.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and New York Yacht Club American Magic will be back out on the water in six days time, with INEOS TEAM UK returning for the PRADA Cup final, which starts on February 13.
Watch every moment of the America's Cup challenge, live on Sky Sports. Coverage continues with the PRADA Cup semi-finals on Friday at 2am on Sky Sports Mix, repeated again at 9am.