WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Britain’s INEOS Team UK and Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli will have few secrets from each other when they meet from Saturday in the final of the America’s Cup challenger series.
The two teams, competing for the right to race defender Team New Zealand in the 37th Cup match next month, have been closely watching each other over several months but more intensely in the weeks leading up to the Prada Cup final.
Any changes or improvements the teams have made to their boats, especially since the conclusion of the challenger series semifinal two weeks ago, will have been noted and carefully analyzed. Team UK beat Luna Rossa during the round-robin part of the challenger series but the Italians have made extensive changes to their boat since.
They made a noticeable leap ahead before the semifinals in which they beat U.S. challenger American Magic 4-0 and they are confident they have improved again to close the gap on the impressive British team which was unbeaten in the challenger round robin.
“Since we raced Ineos Team UK last time we have new foils, a new modified mast, a new set of sails, a lot of development on the software system on the boat and a lot of improvements especially in the communications on board,” Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said. “We made a lot of mistakes when we raced against Team UK and we want to come out with one mistake less than them this time.
“You are racing the America’s Cup, not the grandfather’s Cup. We know what we did wrong against them. We worked really hard, we needed to be honest and perform to the maximum if you want to win.”
In the past, America’s Cup teams fiercely guarded their technical secrets, even shrouding the keels of their yachts to keep them from the prying eyes of opponents. Spying was commonplace: in 1983 the Australian team caught a scuba diver near their dock in Newport, Rhode Island.
These days nothing is hidden but teams still closely measure others’ development and performance. During training sails, teams are stalked by rival’s chase boats who report back on equipment tweaks and performance gains.
“There is a lot of intense scrutiny of the opposition as you come down to a head-to-head as we’ve got now in the final,” Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie said. “Inevitably you’re going to be observing that other team that much more closely and that’s getting more and more intense as we’re getting closer to the races.
“That’s one of the fascinating things about the Cup. In a technical sport like this there’s trying to analyze your opposition but also make the most of the equipment that you’ve got.”
Team UK hasn’t raced since the end of the challenger round-robin, bypassing the semifinal, but Ainslie is confident his team has been able to make the necessary improvements to stay ahead of Luna Rossa.
“In the past 2 1-2 weeks it has been all about making the marginal gains to continue improving our performance,” he said. “We are now in the stage of the cycle where it is all about fine-tuning performance, finding half of a percent here and there.”
Ainslie said the Prada Cup final, a best-of-13 series between two closely-matched teams, might produce some of the best racing the America’s Cup has seen.
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic fight,” he said. “That’s why you compete, because you want to compete against the best and you want to test yourself in those situations.”
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