Prada Cup final postponed as Ineos Team UK lags behind

The world has watched in envy as New Zealanders seemingly go about their normal day to day activities. A directed, clear and stringent Covid-19 policy contained the spread, but now, with the announcement of three cases in one family, a snap lockdown is in immediate action in Auckland. This means that Wednesday’s race is postponed.

Cup organisers have sprung into action looking at different scenarios, seeking to find a ‘fluid racing calendar’. With regard to rescheduling on-water racing and on-shore event organisation, organisers say they are updating plans in consultation with the government and relevant authorities.

The comes as Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli has been enjoying a victorious run (4-0) over Ineos Team UK.

“We are very happy,” says Francesco Bruni, Luna Rossa’s helmsman (pictured above). “The mood is high but we need to maintain concentration because things can change very quickly. The British are a formidable opponent that in terms of boat speed are very similar to us.

“We need to be very careful to not make mistakes. It is a question of remaining focused and obtaining another three points.”

Those three points will be a while coming as Wednesday’s race will not happen as planned. But while the lockdown is initially scheduled for 72 hours, organisers say all competing teams will continue to work in line with Covid-19 level three working protocols, as reviewed with WorkSafe NZ and the Ministry of Health.

This means that sailing, testing and training on the water can continue as it is part of the core business of all teams.

“Within the respective plans and protocols, there is a clear distinction between the individual team’s operations and official Prada Cup and America’s Cup racing itself,” says organisers.

“We will do whatever the authorities advise us to do. Of course it’s more important that people are safe and healthy, so we’ll just see what happens,” says Sir Ben Ainslie.

“It’s bad news, it’s a timely reminder of what the world’s going through isn’t it? We’re very fortunate to be out here doing a yacht race which we all love, so it’s a difficult situation.”

No magic wand for Ainslie in best of 13

Luna Rossa hold a 4-0 lead in the best-of-13 series, with two races a day having previously scheduled for Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and one next Monday.

Ainslie needs to find some quick answers, says Stuff. But there is no magic wand in the way of significant boat modifications. He has made his big choices and has to largely live with them.

The strict rules say that the configurations declared to the measurers last Monday for the best-of-13 Prada Cup final series must remain. The declared configuration includes the hull, foils, rudder and mast tube along with their subcomponents.

There are no restrictions on sail numbers that can be used other than the total quantity permitted in the class rule (10 mainsails, and 29 headsails), so he has some hope there.

It’s clear that Britannia is a click down on speed compared to Luna Rossa and that gap has been accentuated by a sudden lapse in crew performance where mistakes have crept in under pressure from the Italians, says Stuff.

That will be an area of major attention for INEOS Team UK, starting with the boss who has his hands on the wheel. It will be back to the playbook on the simulator for Ainslie with plenty of attention on the starting box where he has run into consistent problems against Luna Rossa’s Jimmy Spithill, who is a master of this crucial pre-race zone.

The worry for the British if they think they can make something out of this unexpected breather is that Luna Rossa will be doing exactly the same. The Italians know they have the British on the ropes and will be looking for the tactics to deliver the knockout blows. The team is running on adrenalin now, while the British are digging deep to make something out of desperation.

With Luna Rossa only needing three more wins for victory, it is possible, depending on lockdown restrictions, that the final could still conclude within that scheduled timeframe.

However, with the level three restrictions set to be reviewed regularly, it is yet to be decided when racing will continue, says the New Zealand Herald .

Using time wisely

Magnus Wheatley, from Rule69, suggests the postponement time will be used to work with data.

“The data crunching that both teams will be able to perform from whirring laptops interpreting billions of points of valuable numbers garnered from the racing” is invaluable says Wheatley.

“I was actually impressed with how close Team Ineos managed to get to Prada with significant overnight gains that almost matched the Italians. That was less than 12 hours of number crunching. The fact that four uncharacteristic poor starts have dictated the outcome to date gives me hope. That is correctable with the talent and the gold medals onboard Ineos. And these boats are so tweaky that giving the data scientists four, five or six days of number crunching and performance analysis could well be just the reset that Ineos needs.”

What’ll happen next?

In terms of racing: “We can sail a helluva lot better than that, and we need to,” says Ainslie. “At this level you can’t afford to make any mistakes and we have made too many. We need to go away, regroup and really get our act together and come out swinging.”

And as for Covid-19? New Zealand’s ever pragmatic prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, says the cup organisers will be taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to their planning.

“They already have Thursday as a postponement day, they haven’t confirmed when the next race will be.

“I imagine they will be doing exactly what the rest of New Zealand is doing and keeping an eye out on the new information that comes to hand.”

Images courtesy of Studio Borlenghi.

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