Auckland, New Zealand – New York Yacht Club American Magic began racing at the Prada Cup, the Challenger Selection Series for the America’s Cup, with a loss to INEOS Team UK in the opening contest of the event. INEOS Team UK’s BRITANNIA crossed the finish line 1:20 ahead of American Magic’s PATRIOT after a six-leg race featuring a tactically one-sided race course.
The British Challenger also won against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team from Italy, and leads the event overall at 2-0. American Magic and Luna Rossa only raced once each on Friday.
After a relatively tame pre-start, both boats hit the line at the gun on starboard tack, with PATRIOT to leeward by a few boatlengths. Initially, it appeared PATRIOT had the edge, squeezing closer to the British boat and forcing BRITANNIA to tack before either team closed on the left-side boundary.
Things got tougher for PATRIOT from that first tack onward. As BRITANNIA headed right, INEOS Team UK stepped into more pressure and a favorable shift and earned the first cross three-quarters of the way up the first beat.
“We’ve been debriefing the race for the past bit and the disappointing part was we kind of did what we wanted to do and it was wrong,” said Terry Hutchinson, Skipper and Executive Director of American Magic.
At the first mark, the lead was just 8 seconds. INEOS Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie and tactician Giles Scott had their choice of marks at the first upwind gate. BRITANNIA took the right-hand mark, closest to the breeze-impacting North Head hill, while American Magic took the left gate. PATRIOT’s search for separation and “leverage” on the racecourse was an attempt to create a passing opportunity, but it did not come without risk.
“With the width of the race course, if you get two wind shifts behind, it’s going to be really hard to grind them down,” said Hutchinson. “It was a ‘rich-get-richer’ course in our race.”
The choice to take the left-hand upwind gate was possibly the decisive moment of the race. Rarely, however, can you pass a competitor at this level by following them around the track for most of the race.
In the blink of an eye, a close 8-second margin more than doubled to 17 seconds at the second gate. INEOS Team UK, now firmly in the driver’s seat on the second beat, was able to once again play the top right side of the course, force PATRIOT to go elsewhere, and build the lead to 47 seconds.
The lead expanded a bit over the remaining three legs, largely due to the American team pushing hard to find leverage where they could. The lead was 1:08 at both the fourth and fifth gates and 1:20 at the finish.
“The one thing you know for certain is the boat in more wind is going to go faster,” said Hutchinson. “I think that was on display.”
“It was a pretty tough race,” said Dean Barker, PATRIOT’s helmsman. “We got off the line in OK shape and didn’t really expect it to be quite as big a difference at North Head. Clearly that gave the control to INEOS, and they sailed a really good race. We knew going into today they were going a lot better from what we’d seen in the practice racing.”
With only one race on her schedule on Friday, PATRIOT headed for the dock after finishing against INEOS Team UK. On Saturday PATRIOT will race twice, first against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, and then against INEOS Team UK.
“The forecast tomorrow is a little bit trickier,” said Hutchinson. “There’ll be a big emphasis on getting that first shift right.”