For almost two weeks there has been one question that has been doing the rounds more than any other down here in Auckland. ‘Who will win the PRADA Cup?’ Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli will battle INEOS TEAM UK on the Waitemata Harbour to become the Challenger of the 36th America’s Cup presented by PRADA. The Final is determined by a best of 13 races, so the first to win seven will be the Challenger.
The first race of the PRADA Cup Final will take place this Saturday 13th of February with a scheduled start at 4:12pm NZT and Luna Rossa will be the first to enter on port tack.
INEOS TEAM UK surprised everyone with their radical change in performance after the December races, and have been taking advantage of more time off through the PRADA Cup Semi-Final. They have had their base doors closed for several days suggesting that they were carrying out modifications that involved more than simply fiddling, fettling and polishing.
Luna Rossa approach the Final off the back of a persuasive encounter against American Magic, beating them by four wins to zero in two days of racing. The sailing team, led by Francesco Bruni and James Spithill, has notably improved on board communication and the execution of manoeuvres. While the boat seems to have taken a decisive step forward in performance. Luna Rossa were able to out perform even in strong winds, previously considered their weak point, without losing their strength in light breezes.
The differences between the two boats are considerable, both on a technical level and in terms of handling. An obvious example is the afterguard. Luna Rossa presents two helmsmen, Francesco Bruni and James Spithill; they never change position on the boat, Francesco stays on the port side, Jimmy on the starboard. Both of them are helming while they are on the windward side of the boat and they cover the role of flight controller while they are on the leeward side. The only person who swops sides on board is Pietro Sibello whose primary role is mainsail trimmer but he is also deeply involved in the strategic decisions supporting Jimmy and Checco with a good vision of the race course. Also, on the Italian boat the grinders, who produce the power needed to make adjustments, are eight; some of which are double tasked and assist in maneuvers.
On the other hand, the organisation onboard INEOS TEAM UK is quite different. It respects a more traditional division of roles: Sir Ben Ainslie is the helmsman, Giles Scott the tactician and the two move from one side to the other of the boat at each tack or gybe as do the mainsail trimmer Bleddyn Mon. Another important characteristic of INEOS TEAM UK is that the British boat only have six main grinders. They work on particular transmission system and the grinding gear always turn in the same direction. In this way the British can count on five free people during the regatta, the helmsman and tactician, the mainsail trimmer and the two flight controllers that sometimes helps grinding.
It is reasonable to assume that BRITANNIA would hope for strong winds to perform at their best, while Luna Rossa would prefer steady winds. Which of the two challengers will win? One thing we can all agree on is that it will be a hard and long battle. The finals of the selection regattas have historically been a great show.