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Ineos Team UK Rule the Day

Sweeping changes made to Britannia ahead of the Prada Cup’s first round-robin allow the British America’s Cup Challenger to sail two commanding races.

January 15, 2021
A closeup of the British AC75 Britannia, with skipper Ben Ainslie at the helm and visible behind the boat's large foil arm.

PRADA Cup 2021 – Round Robin 1

Ineos Team UK Ben Ainslie and his teammates on Britannia started the Prada Cup Challenger Series with two race wins. A faster boat and more confident boathandling allowed them to control both races from start to finish. Luca Butto’

Well, there you have it: Ineos Team UK flipped the script of the Prada Cup Challenger Series with back-to-back wins in its opening matches with American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team. For those who pay attention to the clock: Ben Ainslie and Co., put it to New York YC’s Patriot by 1m:20s and then the Italians by 28 seconds.

From being the punching bag of the Prada America’s Cup World Series only weeks ago, the British squad was virtually standing over its two opponents, gloves off, panting and grinning ear to ear. When the bell rang and the respective challengers returned to their corners in Auckland, the pundits who’d written them off before it all started were noshing on their words and praising the miraculous arrival of a new Britannia, of a challenger who’d dealt two decisive losses in less than an hour of racing.

As was said before, the World Series is ancient history, a practice race, if you will. No one in sailing wants to the practice race anyway. It’s bad luck. And no one in Auckland believes the Brits sandbagged their way through that weekend. There’s far too much at stake to play such games.

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What is at stake now, however, is elimination, one race at time. And Ineos Team UK’s reported wholesale redo of their yacht, from the rudder, to the rig, to the foils and who knows what else, clearly made the boat faster and more reliable all the way around the racetrack in both races. Ainslie’s shore team delivered him a better package to go out and do damage, and he and his teammates delivered results with crisp boathandling, decisive course management (yes, easier to do when you’re ahead).

The went into the day with an air of confidence, noted NBC Sports commentator Ken Read at the top the broadcast, before observing that confidence as “fragile.”

There was nothing fragile in the Ineos’ pre-start with American Magic as they lined up in 10 to 15 knots of wind on Course C. Keeping their distance, Ineos set up to windward and behind American Magic across the starting line for a clear start and a drag race to the left-hand boundary. First to tack to onto port, Ineos beelined to the right-hand boundary, seeming to close gauge with a higher angle and perhaps some current advantage. As the Americans looked forward for an opportunity to gain control of the match, Ineos’ tactician Gilles Scot never need to look back with any concern. The right side of the course had more wind and a better angle to slingshot off the right-hand boundary and cross by an easy boatlength and led tack for tack into the first weather gate. The right worked up wind, so back the Brits went to that side to cash in again. Intentional or not, American Magic set up for the left gate mark and paid for it immediately as they turned downwind and into a light patch. There was a talk of a jibe, and they set up for it, with mainsail trimmer Paul Goodison crossing the boat. In heartbeat of indecisiveness, Barker cancelled the jibe and called Goodison back to his position.

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Regardless, the damage had been and Ineos padded the lead all the way around the course, forcing American Magic out of phase with the windshifts and denying them any passing opportunities. The rich, Hutchinson acknowledge after the race, got richer.

In similar fashion, Ineos controlled its start 30 minutes later with Luna Rossa; first to strike the starting line, first to the righthand boundary, and first to finish. Almost textbook.

Ainslie, as expected, praised the full-press effort of the entire team, from sailors to shore crew, to deliver a boat and two performances that left commentators and pundits scratching their heads and their competitors heading straight to their debriefs to pick apart their losses.

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Yes, it’s early days yet, but it was a good day for Ineos. Exactly what they needed to change the conversation. Today, they’re talk of Auckland. Tomorrow could be another story.

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