Tucked away today on the most eastern course E today, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Ineos Team UK resumed battle today, Auckland. After a shaky start, Ben Ainslie and crew really had to get some points on the leaderboard.
The Hauraki Gulf – which translates to Northerly Wind – lived up to its name today with solid 18 -21 knots on the usual race courses, which prompted race officials to move down to Course E – affectionally known as “The Back Paddock – where the breeze is a more sedate but shiftier 10 knots.
Into who’s hands this will play remains to be seen. Ineos relies strongly on the tactical nous of Giles Scott who is unique among the challengers in his role as a dedicated tactician. Luna Rossa on the other hand will have Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni sharing the roles of helmsman and tactician as well as traveler and rudder rake control.
Here’s how the day unfolded:
Finally we got to see some argy-bargy in the prestart between Spithill and Ainslie. Ineos set up to leeward of Luna Rossa and aimed for the hook as the boats made their way back to the start line, but Luna Rossa paced up and got clear ahead of them. Ineos dropped back a couple of boatlengths and tacked away. Luna Rossa slammed a tight cover and went with them, both boats starting on port, heading for the right hand boundary.
The boats so far seemed much more evenly matched today. When they tacked at the boundary, Luna Rossa stayed ahead and lead back all the way to the port boundary about 60 metres in front. This was the first real line up we have seen where the boats were content to sail side by side, attempting to gain an advantage in pure speed and height over the opponent rather than looking for different breeze. Ineos looked to have a much better high mode and was making inroads when they tacked short of the boundary. Luna Rossa carried on to the boundary and the lay line, making it to the top mark with a couple less manoeuvres and stepping out to a lead of more than 100m in the top portion of the course. The delta at the mark was 9 seconds.
Downwind boat speeds were very even, the boats locked at 140m apart. If there is any difference between the two was in the manoeuvres. Luna Rossa seemed to gain a boat length or so every time they tack or gybe. Luna Rossa round the bottom mark 9 seconds ahead again but it seemed much closer than it was at the top mark. Luna Rossa rounded the left hand gate and extended to that side of the course where Ineos went for the same gate but kept both foils down and rolled straight into a tack, effectively completing a 180 degree turn at 40+ knots.
Despite only holding a narrow lead, Luna Rossa initially seemed happy to let Ineos split from them and instead of following Luna Rossa out to the left, they continued to the boundary. As they came back together, Spithill and Bruni executed a textbook slam-dunk, tacking directly in front of Ineos and forcing them to do another tack having barely accelerated back to race speed after their previous tack. This was now a real match race. Luna Rossa was clearly faster through the manoeuvres, eking out an advantage of 180 metres. They must have seen their advantage and were keen to press it home, forcing Ineos to either sail in the wash behind Luna Rossa’s wing sail or tack again and again, bouncing off the boundary and never really getting to stretch their legs and accelerate. This was perhaps the closest thing we have seen to a classic match race between two AC75s.
Luna Rossa rounds the mark in front again, their lead stretching out to 18 seconds and 320 metres. If Ineos is going to have a chance in this series, they need to start taking the races to Luna Rossa, thus far they have let Spithill and Bruni dictate terms and sail where they want to, leaving Ineos to sail in the less desirable part of the race course. A brilliant layline call at the bottom mark was nearly spoiled by a less than stellar “J-K” which is what Spithill and Bruni call a tack-rounding at the bottom mark. They set off up wind still ahead, but gave most of their lead back to Ineos who were back to within 9 seconds behind.
While that J-K wasn’t particularly fast, it did put the Italians in a nice position to windward of Ineos who had made a traditional rounding at the other gate. This meant that as they approached the boundary, Italy could tack slightly early and set themselves up to be directly in front of the Brits, forcing the recommencement of their tacking duel from the previous lap, though this time they were working Ineos up the right hand boundary. As before, at each tack Ineos would hand Luna Rossa a further 10 metre lead. There were more tacks in the first half of this leg than there were in whole races earlier in the regatta.
As they entered the last 500m of this beat, Luna Rossa was out to a lead of 150 metres and set up in a very controlling position at the starboard layline, giving Ineos no choice but to follow directly behind them as they headed into the final mark rounding. In a reminder about the g-forces onboard these boats, a very loose gybe for Ineos saw Giles Scott sliding backwards and uphill across the deck as the crew rushed to gybe as he was crossing the boat. Luna Rossa sailed a clean final run, with loose covers to stay between the British and the bottom mark.
This was a much closer race than most of what we have seen in the Prada Cup yet Luna Rossa remain well in control, going up 3-0 in the series.
Another must-win start sequence for Ineos saw them pointing skywards thanks to a foil control issue – a mishap that was accompanied by some thoroughly un-British language over the onboard communications. Luna Rossa was again left to start unhindered and jumping out to a 100m lead. This opened the door for Luna Rossa to setup another tight cover, pinning the British boat against the right hand boundary in second race that promised to be fairly intensive for the grinders.
Luna Rossa maintained their lead, easily covering Ineos and staying locked in at 150 metres behind for almost the entire leg. They would round the first top mark 12 seconds ahead. Luna Rossa was following the match racing instruction manual to the letter – staying directly between the man and the mark. The boats appeared to be incredibly evenly matched in these conditions, so while the delta at this stage was only 150 metres, it looked to be a commanding lead, one which Ineos didn’t appear in a position to do anything about. The onboard communications however from Ineos were very relaxed, so perhaps they knew something that wasn’t evident to the spectator about their prospects of picking up their first race win of the series. Again the delta at the bottom mark was 10 seconds and again the Brits went for the J-K tack rounding, setting off for the left hand boundary, followed shortly after by Luna Rossa who looked in the box seat to set up another strangle hold for the beat to windward.
Ineos earned themselves a boundary penalty as they tacked back towards the centre of the course. Ainslie didn’t feel it was warranted and the Virtual Eye graphics suggested they did not breach the boundary. Another leg of follow the leader made for uneventful watching, which would have suited Luna Rossa supporters just fine. The differential had slowly slipped out to a approaching 250m by the time the boats reached the top mark, with the breeze appearing to moderate slightly. As they rounded the mark, Luna Rossa had extended out to 21 seconds.
A big right hand shift of almost 20 degrees played perfectly into the hands of Luna Rossa who jumped out to a lead of 500m, looking for a moment like they might make it down to the mark without gybing, but the breeze flicked back and forceced a double-gybe near the bottom so that they could get to the left hand mark and back to their favoured side of the course.
By now it was clear that if Ineos was to win this race, Luna Rossa had to make an unforced error. They were now far enough ahead that they could do what they wanted, pick their shifts and step out to a 500m lead, rounding the final mark more than 35 seconds ahead.
By now it appeared that Ineos was fresh out of ideas on how to get around Luna Rossa. Their strategy and demeanor very reminiscent of the ACWS at the end of 2020. This performance begs the question, is Luna Rossa sailing a significantly faster boat, or are they just sailing perfect races? Is it just a case of Ineos winning a few starts to turn this around? Or are they in a deeper hole?
Luna Rossa goes up 4-0.