Luna Rossa cashed in on Ineos Team UK’s light-air vulnerability to win the opening two races in the final of the America’s Cup challenger series in Auckland on Saturday.
The winner in the best of 13 races will determine who goes on to race holders Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup, sailing’s most prestigious trophy.
Luna Rossa helmsman Jimmy Spithill steered the Italian entry to a convincing victory by one minute and 52 seconds in race one which was sailed in light air.
When the wind picked up late in the day and the so-called “flying” yachts were reaching speeds of up to 48 knots—which suited the British entry, skippered by celebrated sailor Ben Ainslie – it reduced the margin but it was still Luna Rossa ahead by 16 seconds at the finish.
“It was a great job by the team. The boat was performing very, very well,” Spithill said, although he added improvement was needed before races three and four on Sunday.
“We made a few mistakes today and we’ll definitely be going back to sharpen up on those for tomorrow.”
Ineos had swept into the final unbeaten, favoured by strong winds in the round-robin series and the sailing nous of Ainslie, the most successful yachtsman in Olympic history, who consistently won the all important starts.
But when conditions were against them, Ineos lost its invincibility although Ainslie refused to make excuses.
“The Italians did a good job. They just sailed slightly a bit faster, a little bit better around the course so we will have to go away and think about how we can get a bit more pace,” Ainslie said.
Race one was lost at the start when Ineos fell off its foils and settled in the water, while Ainslie said race two came down to boat speed.
“It was much more of a drag race and once one boat was in front, and credit to Luna Rossa they’re a great team, it can be pretty hard to get past them.”
Luna Rossa won the start to race one when a costly error in the light air saw Ineos drop off its foils and settle in the water rather than above it.
The Italians led by nearly two kilometres at the half-way stage and with no pressure on them they took a risk-free approach to the finish where the margin was 1.6 kilometres.
In a stronger breeze for race two, Ineos had a slight advantage at the start and forced Luna Rossa to tack early to find clean air, but by the end of the first of the six legs the Italians were 11 seconds ahead and they eventually won with a 26-second margin.