“Winning matters. Winning is good. It’s the only option.” That’s a quote from the legendary All Black Sean Fitzpatrick and offers an insight into a winning mentality that all teams have now got to address and build upon as the Prada Cup looms ever larger.
The teams all know the modifications and upgrades that have been implemented or are coming on stream in the next few days and they have a clear roadmap of how each round of the Challenger series will be played and the moding of the boat. Now it’s down to individual performance. Putting it all together. Every team member doing his job 10 or 20% better and relying on the team culture to replay that all the way from the shore crew to the afterguard. This is sport now at the highest level and margins of victory, what really decides who wins and loses, is paper thin. Psychology is a cumulative mindset and each team will be looking to build a platform to work from.
For the Brits, an early win would boost the team and corral morale. Ben has acknowledged that they’ve had the boat at about 20% of performance and he’s pretty honest about the disappointment they are feeling internally. But that’s a huge runway of improvement that could put them right back in the series. If they could get the boat to a performance level of say 70-80% of its potential in this phase then it’s game-on. And that’s highly achievable. Whether it’s enough and whether the others have now gapped them is the question.
The psychological boost of a win, however it is achieved against Prada or Magic, would lift the team unimaginably and give them the right of reply to a sceptical, doubting media. They desperately want to be able to do that. And they need it. The best I’ve ever seen Ben is when his back is against the wall. Athens was a classic. He needs to produce that and translate his utter will to win into every single person in the team. He can do it. And Terry Hutchinson has been quick to acknowledge that as the wounded beast of this contest, they could be the most dangerous threat.
For Prada it’s going to be a game of belief. Belief in the programme. Belief in the afterguard. Belief in the inherent speed of the platform. Belief in the training. They look pretty calm all round. Confident even. They could well be entering this Prada Cup with some speed gains. But it’s a dangerous place to be for the Italians. Belief can seep away fast in this team if their calculations aren’t spot on and they haven’t got the speed to burn. Have they been radical enough in their development process? That’s the question. And have the others, most notably Magic, taken a slightly larger step forward in the past couple of weeks? We’ll know when we see the unused foil set and the first downwind will be telling as to how their VMG has improved. If they are on the money, they will be tough to beat and have all the elements to capitalise. If not, they will implode fast.
American Magic has all the eyes on them. They’ve modified the underbody making the scalpel shape even more pronounced and are looking the most developed. That boat looks like a weapon and boats that look fast, usually are fast. In all the interviews with team members they are playing down their chances and that usually means they know they’re on to something. Development looks well planned and executed. The sail programme looks solid. The team look cohesive and complimentary. All signs are that they are the ones to beat. And that’s right where they want to be. Belief is growing around the team. Have they got an unstoppable momentum?
The world is waiting with bated breath. The questions that need answers are tantalisingly close now. We will know so much from the first races and it’s a fascinating period. Who will get the psychological advantage and build that momentum. How will the others react?
This is first rate sport being played out in a crucible of dreams and ambition in the perfect amphitheatre of Auckland’s waters. It is beyond exciting.
(This article is dedicated to the memory of my friend Simon ‘Fumesy’ Russell who sadly succumbed to Covid. My thoughts are with his wife and daughters and I send my deepest condolences. Top man. Top sailor. Sail on my friend)
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