America’s Cup 2021: AUT’s Sailing Professor Mark Orams – Does Luna Rossa’s Prada Cup rise spell major trouble for Team NZ?

OPINION:

The signs are ominous for Ineos Team UK in the Prada Cup challenger series final.

It will take some kind of miracle for the British to extricate themselves from being 4-0 down against the Italians.

But does the rise of Luna Rossa also spell major trouble for defenders Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup match race?

There were two big questions going into this Prada Cup final: Have the Brits fixed their vulnerability in light winds and have Luna Rossa become more competitive in the higher wind strengths? The answers are not good news for British fans.

It’s bad news on top of bad news because Luna Rossa have emerged as the complete package in the four races so far. They are fast in the light and higher winds, faster through the tacks and more stable in their flight.

It’s always a good sign when a foiling craft looks smooth and in the groove, as Luna Rossa does.

In contrast, Ineos are struggling in the pre-starts and their promising downwind speed is compromised by slower tacks, which makes it hard to force a mistake or find a wind-shift to manufacture a pass.

After a remarkable turnaround from their dismal pre-Christmas showing to be undefeated in the Prada Cup round robin, they are back in big trouble.

Their best option is to sort out their pre-starts, which have been abysmal in these finals.

Get off the line in front and you can control the race. Give Luna Rossa a dose of their own medicine and tack on their face. Make life difficult for them.

If Ineos can get around the top mark in front they have shown the downwind speed to defend, perhaps even stretch.

If they cannot do this, Luna Rossa will be the challenger for the 36th America’s Cup.

Am I worried for Team New Zealand? Not yet.

While Luna Rossa are impressive – they have won eight straight races without being headed in any – it is easy to look like champions when you can lead from the start.

TNZ’s Te Rehutai looks the goods from what I’ve seen. She is fast, stable and under control.

My lingering concern is TNZ’s lack of racing and, especially, starting practice.

Luna Rossa’s Jimmy “Pitbull” Spithill’s mojo is working in the pre-starts. His confidence is building with every outing and pre-start win.

Peter Burling and co. will need to counter this confidence and aggression. Speed is critical, as always, but we are also seeing that the ability to win the start allows you to control the race.

Team New Zealand will be watching closely.

Professor Mark Orams is a former NZ and world champion sailor, Team New Zealand member, author, environmentalist and Professor of Sport and Recreation at the Auckland University of Technology.

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