Michelangelo might as well have been talking about Luna Rossa in the Prada Cup semi-final when the Italian sculptor stated; ‘Perfection is no small thing but it is made up of small things.’ The Prada Team came out of the traps absolutely smoking today, revelling in their bad boy, black sheep imagery and utterly determined to lay it all down in a puffy, choppy, shifty 20 knot breeze that had these unbelievable machines on rails all day. It was their performance to date and the first two clean race wins of the summer, laying down a serious marker of intent as world’s collided, as they often don’t with Italian challenges, and everything came together beautifully.
Gone were the shoddy comms – they even managed to instil brevity into Spithill’s calls and clarity in Bruni’s – and the slow board drops were a thing of distant memory, rapier fast. Prada looked stable in flight and when you don’t put pressure on the starts and can’t come back and rattle the Italian’s cage, the Prada boys will just take full advantage and sail off to the red moon horizon with ease. As close to kicking a man when he’s down was the story of today and for American Magic they face a very steep battle at 2-0 to get back into this semi-final and avoid being dumped out of the Cup.
The world wanted to believe in magic just this once, but American Magic winning today was an illusion too far. Set beneath the batwing mainsail that promised so much, Patriot delivered little with an upwind performance that was lower and slower and a series of cavitations downwind, particularly around the top mark on the bear-away that must have been heart-in-mouth moments for everyone onboard. The Magic team have had better days. Patriot 2.0 was just not the same as before and it’s going to be a very long night for the shore team burning the midnight oil to get under the skin of the analysis, firing up those Airbus computers and getting a solution before Saturday which could be their last day of racing in this tournament.
There are mountains to climb all over the America’s Cup. It’s like a series of 8000 metre + monsters to conquer for all the teams with Everest awaiting at the end in the form of Team New Zealand. Prada know that one swallow does not make a summer but now that they know they can do it, momentum gathers pace and being half-way to the summit in this series seriously puts a tiger in their tank. They are at check. Check-mate could swiftly follow.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Italians. Some nervy boathandling, notably around a leeward mark in the second race when they elected not to do the now customary ‘eagle’ rounding with both flaps down to maintain control. Spithill went for the straight one board round up and at 45 knots you got a glimpse into just how on the edge these boats really are as they skidded, slam-dunked and stalled – it’s the kind of move that Ainslie would have pounced on and the Ineos Lions would have been through. But in context, American Magic were so far behind in both races, outsailed on all points of sail, that a quick recovery, a deep breath and Luna Rossa was off to the horizon again.
With the luxury of boatspeed in the bag, Prada could pretty much cruise once it had established one or two minute leads. They were in another county, another zip code for most of the racing today. There was very little American Magic could do. Power wasn’t being delivered by the rig and the boat looked twitchy, unstable and about to go off the rails like a teenager at its first disco. Only the wise heads onboard kept it on the straight and narrow. The disappointment in the team, who so wanted the story to be a fairytale, was etched on their faces as the nightmare reality dawned. Tough day at the office.
So what can be done? Well, give really smart people a problem and the resources to solve it and you just never know the miracles they can perform. The Americans have super-smart people back in the shed and they’ll be crunching the numbers like never before. My guess, and this is just a hunch, is that the new foil/rudder package is a light-air set-up. The fact that they found so little control in the absolute peak breeze is possibly little surprise. It’s expected to get lighter for the weekend and Patriot may well have sacrificed its undoubted heavy-air dominance of pre-crash by going for the skinnier foils that were set for later in the summer if they had progressed further. They’ve thrown it all in here. Hope isn’t lost in my book. If right, a sneaked win tomorrow would throw the cat amongst the pigeons.
It would be easy to write off the Americans sitting at 2-0 with all the evidence pointing at a rejuvenated, hurt Prada determined to show what it can do and pulling it all together after a really tough week. Not so fast. American Magic will come back and with the little bit of confidence that they can take from today in just getting the boat bedded in and around the course in some of the toughest conditions yet, they can still have a say.
Time is short though. On the face of it we are looking at a Prada/Ineos Final and that’s a chapter that has every story writer animated. And if Dean Barker doesn’t put the hammer down in the pre-starts, as he didn’t today, then the story of that Prada Cup Final match-up can start being written.
Saturday is do or die for the Americans.
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