With the PRADA America’s Cup World Series Auckland now complete and the winner crowned, the final stage of racing for 2020 changes gear with the PRADA Christmas Race. This is a knockout series comprising two semifinals and a pair of finals.
On the water the racing will look much the same as the previous three days, but unlike the round robins, this is a knockout event. As a complete four day package the two events provide a compressed snapshot of the full process next year.
But however you look at it, today’s racing remains crucially important to all four of the teams and has revealed a great deal about their relative strengths and weaknesses. For American Magic, the previous three days have shown that, based on points, they are the quickest of the Challengers. Plus, they’re the only ones to have beaten the Defenders so far. Furthermore, Terry Hutchinson’s team have demonstrated that they can deliver over a reasonably wide range of conditions despite some apparent self-doubt about their speed in light conditions.
A similar picture has emerged for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, albeit without managing to beat Emirates Team New Zealand, despite coming extremely close in the final race of the PRADA ACWS Auckland. Their ability to perform near flawless manoeuvres under pressure thanks to their unique dual helmsman configuration has been a talking point and appears to have given the team an edge in tight situations. They too look slippery in the light and perhaps most crucially, able to match the Defenders in their ability to take off in light weather.
Sadly, this has not been the case for INEOS TEAM UK who have had serious problems with getting onto their foils or staying there when the breeze drops.
Ironically, for a team that had a deeply frustrating third day where they failed to finish both races, they were the fastest boat in a straight line with a top speed yesterday of 43.3knots. (Interestingly American Magic was the slowest). Once the breeze is above a certain threshold Sir Ben Ainslie’s team shows signs of being able to match the others, but there is clearly a great deal of work to do.
For Emirates Team New Zealand today is also crucially important. This is the last time that they will get to race against the three Challengers. The next time they line up on the race course it will be for real in the America’s Cup in March. By then they will be facing the strongest of the Challengers in the fight for the world’s oldest international sporting trophy. A Challenger who will have undoubtedly raised their game in the battle to gain the coveted place.
Emirates Team New Zealand know the process well, having been Challengers themselves in the last America’s Cup in Bermuda and while the end result will be the same in that they will be on the start line for the America’s Cup, they will be wearing a different hat.
But for all the relative performances among the teams, the weather conditions today look likely to take all four into new territory in a live racing environment.
“Depending on which weather model you look at shows a slight variation in the wind speeds that we can expect today,” explained Regatta Director Iain Murray. “Overall, we are looking at 4 knots at 3pm, building to 7-11 knots from around 040 by 6pm. I think we will get races in, it’s just a question of how long we will have to wait. We do have a hard limit that requires us to clear the race course by 7pm in order to comply with the shipping requirements.”
Another day’s racing is another chance for more data, more analysis and more refinement for all. So, while the desire to get out there and race is clearly there across the fleet, it is the weather that might have the final say.