9 Feb, 2021
If this is a taster of what's to come, bring it on!
If you haven’t seen today’s Round Robin match between INEOS and Luna Rossa and you’re saving the repeat to watch at a more sociable time in the northern hemisphere I’m afraid you should have turned off your social media far earlier. Because this was THE race of the event so far and one that will doubtless have already attracted a great deal of attention. What a race. Nine lead changes, a 1 second delta, tricky mark roundings, lee bow tacks, luffs, port and starboard crosses and so on. As Ben said, as his crew sprayed champagne around on stage after the race, ‘This has to be one of the most exciting races we have ever done.’ I struggle to think of similar Cup cycle races, (although I’m sure there are some), but the bottom line is that this was the race that few of us dared to think was possible ahead of the event in such new and extreme boats. But setting that aside, in all the tactical play and close calls, the two things that stood out for me were firstly, another confirmation of how strong the Ainslie/Scott partnership is and how clear and concise their calls are. Throughout the race, whether ahead or behind, they were all over it. To be fair, so too were Spithill/Bruni and in looking at these two one of the stories we’re seeing developing is that of how important a partnership is. But that’s for another time. The other thing that stood out was how much better the British manoeuvres were. Both boats were slick, but I think INEOS had the edge. Every windward gate rounding was, ‘flat as’, as they say down here, but the real glamour move came with their leeward gate rounding around the right hand mark when they rounded and tacked without ever appearing to slow the boat down or heel it. This was a slick, high speed move that in my opinion hasn’t been possible for the crew until they had regained their confidence in the boat. We’ve seen how that confidence returned over the last couple of weeks with a team that now has six consecutive wins, assuming you count the contractual obligation of the ghost race against the absent American Magic. So, apart from having turned their campaign around and being able to take pride in a perfect score line, what does winning the Round Robin stage get them? Firstly and as widely reported they now go straight to the Prada Cup final which starts on 13 Feb, that’s 19 days away. During that time Luna Rossa gets to race against American Magic from next Friday, surely that’s an advantage? If a team was struggling for pace maybe so, but if you are clearly the quicker boat, which Britannia II seems to be at the moment, moving the game on doesn’t involve going head to head with someone who is slower. As Ben said the other day, (and I paraphrase not quote), ‘it’s all about developing the boat, making it faster as we head towards our ultimate goal. This break gives us an opportunity to consider tweaks and changes that we might not be able to consider if we had a shorter break.’ The Cup has always been about a faster boat and this cycle is no different. So, it would seem that the team are currently in a good place when it comes to race tactics and comms leaving them to concentrate on speed. And here teams have ways in which they can test, train and develop using support boats to simulate situations in a way you wouldn’t have thought were possible with slow lead mines. It’s an exciting time for the British team, but there’s one other point that I think is significant. The last time a British Cup challenger made it to the America’s Cup was in 1964, but that is getting ahead of ourselves, As far as I’m aware, this is the first time a British team has made it to the Challenger finals since 1983 when Victory squared up to Australia II, won the first race and then lost the next four. Naturally, we all know the history of the Cup from there. So, while winning today is by no way winning the Cup, it is an impressive step along the road.