WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The first day of racing in the final of the America’s Cup challenger series between Team UK and Italy’s Luna Rossa measured what British skipper Ben Ainslie called the “trade-off.”
Team UK dominated the challenger series round-robin, winning all of its races to progress directly to the final. Luna Rossa was forced to advance through a semifinal series against U.S. challenger American Magic.
In winning the round robin, the British team gained more time to hone and develop its boat ahead of the Prada Cup final, while Luna Rossa had the advantage of more racing in its 4-0 series win over American Magic.
The question hovering over the final series was which team had the best side of the trade-off: was time in the boatshed more valuable than time on the water?
Luna Rossa’s impressive performance Saturday in beating Team UK twice to start the best-of-13 race series in Auckland suggested the latter route was the better one.
Team UK’s extra development time didn’t appear to have helped it overcome its vulnerability in the light winds in which the first race of the day was sailed. Luna Rossa’s greater time on the racecourse was apparent in its slicker crew work which was evident in the second race, sailed in stronger winds in which the teams were more closely matched.
Luna Rossa seemed to make a major leap in performance between the round-robin and the semifinal and seems to have improved again in the two weeks since.
“There is no special ingredient for getting better,” Luna Rossa helmsman Francesco Bruni said. “It’s a lot of work (which needs) the help of the whole team and time in the water and a lot of work on the shore.
“But there is not one thing that is more important than the other. They are all important and you have to make a good balance of all of them.”
Ainslie believes his team also has improved, though it hasn’t completely addressed its light wind performance.
“I think they are two very even teams over 10 knots of wind,” he said. “I think you could put either sailing team in either boat and they could win.
“But in lighter airs Luna Rossa has an edge in speed on us. That has been the case since we started racing here.”
In medium winds, Ainslie said, it was a close race and came down to which team sails the best.
“I think that’s exactly how it should be. It’s where we want to be as sailors.”
Ainslie said Team UK was in no way under-prepared for the final.
“Our pre-match training was really intense in terms of the practice racing we were doing,” he said. “We were ready for it, the guys fought hard but today we came up short. Tomorrow we won’t.”