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Prada Cup semi-final Day 2

9 Feb, 2021

Pitch perfect for Prada, the end of the road for American Magic

To be honest I don’t know where to start. Down here in the bubble we’ve all been so focussed on the re-building of American Magic’s Patriot, as if this was the defining part of the road to the America’s Cup, that we’ve been blind to what has really been going on. We’ve been willing American Magic to make a comeback, both for their own sake and for that of the event. But there’s been an underlying trend that has been supressed – the Italians have upped their game and have raised the bar. So far, the racing has been way above what many would have expected both in terms of the boat on boat action and the sheer spectacle of seeing boats travelling around a windward/leeward course at the national speed limit ashore. After the drama of the American Magic crash some of us, me included, thought that the American team would come out fighting with a shit or bust attitude that would make them a difficult team to go up against. We weren’t alone, Luna Rossa thought this too. But when it came to the semi-final it was clear that the Italians had made huge strides forwards. Their performance in the strong breeze yesterday, where the gusts were peaking at around 25knots, was exceptional. They had one spin out at the leeward mark at 49knots but they recovered and continued to deliver two otherwise flawless races. Today they did the same in a more modest breeze of around 10-16 knots. They were calm, collected and clinical in their execution of both races, nailing the American team from the pre-start in both cases. I hate to say it, as I have the utmost respect for terry Hutchinson, Dean Barker and the rest of the American Magic crew, but they were simply not up to the task. They were poor in the pre-start where they struggled to control a start and lacked the speed to challenge on all but the downwind legs. I know the capsize and the rebuild will have taken its toll and that the top end conditions that they faced on their return to the race course will have been the last thing that they wanted, but the reality is that their performance problems had started well before the crash. This is a team that saw its two rivals surge past them in just a few weeks over the Christmas break. This is a team that, despite beating Emirates Team New Zealand, failed to win another race once we stepped over into 2021. This is a team that few of us can understand. What happened? What changed? What went wrong? The questions posed in press conferences and interviews delivered nothing in the way of answers. Indeed, it seemed like the team was in denial. So in the absence of any self-effacing comments I returned to the notes I had picked up along the way. As with most of the Cup cycles I’ve reported on these often help to understand the bigger picture later on. To me the significant point was the chatter that American Magic were genuinely shocked to be on the receiving end of a thrashing in the Round Robin phase. Here, there are similarities with the British performance to a point. They too were hammered by the opposition, but I suspect that the difference was that Ben and the boys knew that they were going to have a tough time well before it happened and were already planning their modifications. The Americans were caught unawares. Terry Hutchinson’s comments in this evening’s press conference as they prepared to pack their containers seemed to confirm this when he said that he was proud of the fact that they hadn’t changed their approach when things were looking bad. I’m never going to be a fraction of the sailor he is, but that just didn’t sound right for a team with deep pockets and oodles of talent. The bottom line is that someone had to be flicked from this round and the team that’s going forwards is Luna Rossa. They’ve played their cards very close to their chests, they’ve worked every possible angle that they can, on and off the water and as a result they’ve played the full America’s Cup game. And while they might not be winning the popularity stakes behind the scenes there is no disputing the fact that they are on a heads down/arse up mission. Jimmy Spithill was in a punchy mood this evening. “It’s time for payback on the pommes”, he said at the press conference. “Development is the name of the game in the America’s Cup and we’ve got a lot of work to do. I think it was an advantage going through that series and there is a lot we want to do with the boat.” And there lies the next key issue. Luna Rossa are already talking big when it comes to how much they’ve learned by racing. They are talking their racing up and yet in reality they were never pushed very hard. To get to the final they had to go through the motions and the reality is that compared to the Brits they have less time to incorporate any major changes. They may not need to, but with 12 days before the racing gets underway again, talking tough is likely to be part of the strategy.

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