The New Zealand Government’s decision to move to Level 3 Covid restrictions in Auckland following two new community cases that emerged last weekend pressed pause on the PRADA Cup Final – Could this affect the racing we see from here on in?
After a five day break in which INEOS TEAM UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli are battling it out to see who will become the Challenger for the 36th America’s Cup, the Final will be back underway this Saturday 20th February. Racing is planned for every day until one competitor gets to seven points, or by the end of the schedule on 24th February.
But, while the racing returns, it does so within the move to Level 2 restrictions which were announced under the Public Health Protocols of the New Zealand Government on Wednesday. This means that crowds in excess of 100 people will be unable to gather to spectate ashore, which in turn has meant the suspension of activities such as the dockout show, race screening and other public events. It has also meant that Race Courses B & C will not be used to mitigate the chance of large public gatherings on shore.
Having said that, the full TV broadcast will continue as before and spectators are expected to head out to watch the racing on the water.
Currently, it is the Italians that have the upper hand having dominated the first two days last weekend, winning all four opening races to sit at 4:0.
Weeks of deliberation ahead of the start of the Final, had focussed on which team had the advantage yet few if any could say with any confidence who would come out on top or what the scoreboard may look like.
But 48 hours into the series the picture was starting to take shape. The Italians looked strong across a wide range of conditions and were clearly confident in their boat speed, tactics and on-board communications. But as co-skippers Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni were quick to confirm, they were taking nothing for granted, as far as they were concerned the British were still a serious threat.
A pause in racing was always part of the schedule, last Monday would have been a layday and Tuesday a reserve day, two days in which INEOS TEAM UK would be certain to be working flat out to make improvements. Two potentially risky days for Luna Rossa. But the move to Level 3 and the postponement of racing on Wednesday increased the potential risk and reward for both teams and more was about to come.
After almost 24 hours in which the Challenger of Record (COR 36) and America’s Cup Events (ACE) deliberated as to when racing could remain following the Government’s announcement of a return to Level 2 in Auckland, the new schedule was announced. With Saturday being the first day back on the Race Course, five days would have passed between racing.
It is commonly said by Cup teams that the most valuable commodity in any campaign is time. We have already seen evidence from both teams as to how this can benefit performance. The balancing act this week was whether teams spent time in the shed or on the water training, which was still permitted under the Level 3 rules.
Unsurprisingly, both teams have been tight lipped about any plans, be they afloat or ashore and in a city that was a quiet as a country estate there were few witnesses to see when teams were active. But throughout the week each appears to have chosen a mixture of the two with both spending long hours afloat. This if nothing else, suggests that neither is working on major modifications.
And while we don’t know whether these on-water sessions are for the performance evaluation of new kit or crew training, as the clock counts down the focus is shifting towards the other major factor, the weather.
The forecast for Saturday suggests a southwest sea breeze of around 10-13 knots. Based on their previous performances, conditions that Luna Rossa have always been comfortable in. And while INEOS TEAM UK has struggled in the lighter breezes at times, a double figure wind speed is sufficient for them to remain on their foils throughout the race.
If the Italians are able to put two more race wins on the scoreboard they will need just one victory on Sunday. But the current forecast for Sunday’s weather suggests a less certain picture on the conditions.
The breeze remains light, around 8-10 knots depending on which weather model you look at and is due to swing to the north. There is further potential for complication when you consider the Course Areas that are available. The weather forecast for Course A, the most northerly in the Hauraki Gulf suggests slightly more breeze across a more open area with a steadier breeze. On Course Area E, the ‘Back Paddock’, conditions look like they could be shiftier.
Once again, light conditions could be said to play into the hands of the Italians yet one of the British team’s strong cards is their performance in shifty, puffy weather. A win for INEOS TEAM UK over the next three races will see racing continue on Monday when the forecast is for stronger conditions averaging at around 15 knots from the northeast. But loose all three races and Luna Rossa wins the PRADA Cup.
The bottom line is that the Hauraki Gulf is notorious for its complex weather, particularly during the summer months when the surrounding land mass creates a variety of local conditions and sea breezes that can cancel each other out as easily as they can combine forces to boost conditions. For all the tinkering ashore that may have taken place behind closed team doors, the route to overall victory could well depend more on keeping eyes out of the boat and reading the weather.
Play-Pause-Play, we’re on the eve of the third phase.