Italian challenger Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli will race defender Emirates Team New Zealand in the 36th match for the America’s Cup after beating Britain’s Ineos Team UK in two races Sunday to seal a 7-1 win in the best-of-13 race challengers series final.
Luna Rossa came into the fourth day of the final series with a 5-1 lead and won the first race of the day by 1 minute, 45 seconds to move to 6-1 and match point.
Thriving in light winds, it controlled and comfortably won the second race by 45 seconds to clinch the series and set up a showdown with Team New Zealand in the Cup match which begins on March 6.
“Time for high fives,” Italian co-helmsman Francesco Bruni said as Luna Rossa sailed towards the finish line. “Bravo to the team, bravo Italy. Fantastico.
“It’s a great day for us, it’s a great day for Luna Rossa and it’s a great day for Italy. We’re in for a great fight for the America’s Cup now.”
Italy’s race boat Luna Rossa clearly demonstrated it’s speed advantage over Team UK’s Britannia in light winds and that was evident again in both of Sunday’s races — the seventh and eighth of the series.
Luna Rossa and Britannia crossed the start line side by side in the first race of the day but Luna Rossa steadily pulled away in the light breeze, especially exerting its edge in upwind speed.
Racing in the challengers series has shown that Britannia and Luna Rossa are closely matched in winds of 12 knots or more and that Luna Rossa has a significant edge in 12 knots or less. As the British team faced the prospect of elimination yesterday, needing to win at least one race to keep the series alive, Auckland again turned on light winds which played into the hands of the Italian team.
Stronger winds are forecast for the coming week and if Team UK had been able to live to fight another day, it might have extended the comeback that began when they won the second of two races on Saturday. But that chance was snuffed out when the wind, around 10 knots at the start of race seven, stayed around that mark and allowed Luna Rossa to show its strength.
With around 10 knots also in the second race of the day there were no passing lanes on the course.
Skipper Sir Ben Ainslie is Britain’s most celebrated modern sailor, a winner of four Olympic gold medals, famous for his competitiveness and his ability to come from behind even in the most dire circumstances.
But even he was powerless on Sunday when conditions proved the adage that the fastest boat always wins.
“They’ve got about two knots faster, so it’s pretty hard to race against that,” Ainslie said. “We’ve been trying everything to get on top of it but clearly we can’t.”
Ainslie was magnanimous when Team UK’s campaign finally came to an end.
“Well done to Luna Rossa, well done to Italy,” he said. “I know it’s a big deal in Italy to get into the America’s Cup final.
“They sailed brilliantly and deserved to take the final. We’re obviously disappointed we couldn’t get through but we have to go away, get back to the drawing board and see what we can do.”
The first race Sunday started with Luna Rossa windward of Britannia. The boats extended starboard tacks to the boundary, then tacked simultaneously. Coming back on port, Team UK couldn’t live on Luna Rossa’s hip and had to tack away again and the Italian extended to a lead it maintained for the rest of the race.
Luna Rossa led by 16 seconds at the first mark and 21 seconds at the second. Rounding the third mark, Team UK attempted a complex maneuver, splitting from Luna Rossa and heading for the left hand side. In doing so it wore off boat speed and Luna Rossa gained to lead by 1 minute, 7 seconds at the top mark.
Team UK made a small gain downwind on the fourth leg but Luna Rossa pulled away again on the last upwind.
In an aggressive pre-start to the second race Sunday, Luna Rossa crossed the start line early and conceded a penalty. When it discharged that penalty Team UK was ahead at the first cross.
But at the second cross on the first leg, Luna Rossa showed its upwind edge and crossed ahead. It led by 12 seconds at both the first and second marks but by 34 seconds after the second upwind and at that point it’s lead was insurmountable.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports