Britain’s Ineos Team UK, skippered by Ben Ainslie, fought back to notch their first win in the America’s Cup challenger finals in Auckland on Saturday, but Luna Rossa remain comfortably ahead in the series.
The starts have been crucial, and Luna Rossa dominated the first five races to lead the best-of-13 series 5-0 before Ineos eventually clicked to control the sixth race prestart and sail away for victory.
With the honours shared in the two races on Saturday, it leaves the Jimmy Spithill-helmed Luna Rossa needing two more wins to qualify for a showdown with America’s Cup holders Team New Zealand, while Ineos require a further six victories.
“Getting one back was what we needed,” multi-Olympic gold medallist Ainslie said after winning race six, adding that stronger winds helped.
“Probably 13 knots and above both boats are even but beneath that we struggle. They know it, we know it,” he said.
“We’re happy with a win after being on the wrong side of it in the last few days of racing.”
Ainslie and Spithill are no strangers to finding success after being well behind on the scoreboard.
They were teammates on Oracle Team USA in 2013 when they came from 8-1 down to beat Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup, and Spithill said he was not looking too far ahead this time.
“It’s always one at a time, and you never really think about the end result and the day has shown the boats are very, very similar,” he said.
After races five and six were postponed this week when a Covid-19 outbreak put Auckland in a 72-hour lockdown, Ineos was expected to make critical refinements during the extended break.
Ainslie was more aggressive at the start than in the first four races.
In race five he conceded a penalty which saw Luna Rossa 15 seconds ahead at the end of the first leg and slowly extending the margin to 80 seconds at the finish.
But when Ainslie gained the upper hand at the start of race six, it was his turn to control proceedings.
Although the lead was only eight seconds at the end of the first leg, he covered every move by Luna Rossa to win by 14 seconds.