Can they be beaten?
Sailing Today|April 2021
Emirates Team New Zealand is lying in wait in the America’s Cup, due to take place from 6-15 March. We take a closer look at the team to beat

While the challengers slug it out in the Prada Cup, tradition dictates that the Defender of the America’s Cup lies in wait and doesn’t show its colours until the Cup match itself.

This 36th edition of the Cup has been different, in that the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, organised two regattas before Christmas 2020 in Auckland, where all four teams took part.

This gave all Cup watchers a fascinating glimpse of each team’s and each boat’s relative performance – including that of the Defender. And as we know, the New Zealanders came out on top, winning the regatta. They were clearly the fastest on the water but their dominance overall wasn’t complete. They were threatened most by the Italian outfit, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. That, however, was in December. Both the Italians and the British made huge leaps in performance in the period over Christmas and New Year, coming out with not entirely new boats but very different boats – masts, sails, foils and software were upgraded.

As we saw in January, the speed and performance difference for the British alone was startling.

So have the New Zealanders made the same kind of gains in this time, while they sit back and watch the rest of the teams fight it out for the right to challenge them for the Auld Mug?

Similarly big gains are unlikely in the latter stages of the Prada and America’s Cup, but at this level and at this stage even a 2% improvement in performance can count as a race winner – and a Cup winner.

Improvements in the way the boat is sailed are just as key as technical and design tweaks. In the semi-finals against the US team, Luna Rossa showed they had made great strides forward in this regard. Later Francesco Bruni, co-helm of the boat with Jimmy Spithill, said they had spent time practising starts against their team RIB and making other changes to how they worked the boat practically on the water, as well as how they peformed tactically in different circumstances around the race course.

When, in the early Prada Cup final races, the British lost all their starts, it was suggested they were suffering from the long, three-week lay-off without any racing. The Italians had had two weeks off since their previous match with American Magic, but maybe they had retained a race sharpness that INEOS had lost.

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