Team UK, Luna Rossa set for America’s Cup challengers final

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Racing in the America’s Cup challenger final will begin Saturday between Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and INEOS Team UK, teams with a recent history of antagonism and a shared desire to guide the future of the historic sailing event.

Bad blood exists between the teams after Italy’s Luna Rossa successfully protested against the British team’s use of a sail control system early in the regatta, which was found to be outside competition rules.

Luna Rossa’s protest cost Team UK NZ$5,000 ($3,600) and means that the British team enters the first-to-seven-win Prada Cup final effectively with one strike against it. A second rule breach likely will result in the team being disqualified from a race — a costly penalty in a 13-race series.

British skipper Ben Ainslie has condemned the Italian complaint as “churlish,” adding “I don’t think that’s how the game should be played.” Team UK’s fear is that Luna Rossa could use a scattergun approach, launching a flurry of technical complaints in the hope of scoring a hit that could lead to a disqualification.

“That is the game and we will go into the Prada Cup final with our eyes wide open as to some of the tactics,” Ainslie said.

Ainslie said Team UK will take extra pains and work closely with the measurement committee to ensure its race boat, Britannia, is fully compliant.

Luna Rossa has had its own technical issues and setbacks. It has devised a way to race without a backstay — the system that tensions the rig — which gives it an aerodynamic advantage. But the measurement committee also has found that system non-compliant.

When questioned about their complaints against the British team, Luna Rossa’s helsmen Francesco Bruni and Jimmy Spithill mostly have shrugged and sought to minimize the issue. But the Italian team has taken a hard-nosed approach which likely will continue through the challenger final.

Team UK and Luna Rossa also are in competition to have some control over the next America’s Cup. Luna Rossa has served as Challenger of Record under Cup-holder Team New Zealand which allows them to jointly determine the rules of the regatta and the type of boats that are used.

Team New Zealand reportedly intends to make Team UK the Challenger of Record if it successfully defends the Cup in March, in part because the British team shares its preference for the foiling monohulls in which the current regatta is being sailed.

On the water, Team UK and Luna Rossa seem closely matched. Team UK recovered from a faltering performance in the America’s Cup World Series before Christmas to dominate the Prada Cup round-robin and earn a direct path to the final.

Luna Rossa had mixed form in the round-robin series, losing to the British team, but made substantial improvements in the semifinal in which it beat American Magic 4-0.

Spithill said Luna Rossa benefited from the semifinal racing.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be racing and I believe we needed that series,” Spithill said. “I actually think it was an advantage because we are a lot stronger for it.

“We’ve been very very candid and critical and you have to be to improve and as a unit. I think we’ve done that well but we know there’s a lot more there and we have to keep the throttle down.”

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