As if written into the script, the final race was the one that mattered when it came to who would take the PRADA America’s Cup World Series Auckland trophy.
With Emirates Team New Zealand and American Magic on even points, a win against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli would give the Kiwis the point they needed to take the trophy.
Like any good final day of a regatta, the PRADA ACWS Auckland was wide open for most teams to sail their way onto the winner’s stage, with a clean couple of races and maximum points getting them onto the podium.
One of many hurdles for the teams to overcome was the light and tricky breeze, which forced a late shift of the racecourse further up the Rangitoto Channel to get the best from the 7–13 knots northerly wind.
Emirates Team New Zealand won the last race by 16 seconds over Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and opened the bottle of GH Mumm Champagne on the Race Village main stage in front of their fans.
Port: Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
Starboard: INEOS TEAM UK
Length: 1.78 nm
Current: 1.3 knots @ 333
Wind 8–12 knots
Winner Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
As the race boats headed out to the course, there were questions about how the weather would play out. With a forecast for light breezes and the race area positioned to the leeward of Rangitoto, the concern was that the breeze would prove fickle in the lee of the island.
The pre-start saw both boats enter on time and at speed but there was no tactical engagement between the two.
Instead, as the clock counted down to the start Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (ITA) and INEOS TEAM UK (GBR) both chose to line up on starboard for a perfectly timed start.
As the pair headed out to the left-hand side of the course, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were to windward and were inching out an advantage over INEOS TEAM UK.
The first tack came from Sir Ben Ainslie’s team; the Italians followed suit to cover them. A few minutes later, INEOS TEAM UK tacked back onto starboard, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli followed to maintain their cover and so the pattern continued to the top mark. Each time the Italians squeezed out more distance and rounded the first gate 30 seconds ahead.
After that, the race was a one-sided affair and as the breeze dropped the British team struggled to stay on the foils.
As Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli rounded the gate at the bottom of the course for their last beat to the shortened race, finishing at the windward gate on Leg 5, they were a full leg ahead of INEOS TEAM UK who remained stuck in the water, unable to fly.
By the finish the Italians, who hadn’t experienced any flight problems, were almost two legs ahead.
Port: Emirates Team New Zealand
Stbd: New York Yacht Club American Magic
Length: 1.5 nm
Wind 9–10 knots
Winner: Emirates Team New Zealand 1:19
As Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) and American Magic (USA) came into the start box, neither seemed keen to engage in a pre-start duel. Indeed, as the clock counted down to the start itself, Emirates Team New Zealand was at the pin end of the line while American Magic was at the committee-boat end. Both were at speed and on starboard.
When the pair came back together, after the Kiwis had tacked onto port, the Americans used the starboard tactical advantage that they had to tack in front of Emirates Team New Zealand. Advantage American Magic.
Eventually, the Kiwis tacked away, unable and unwilling to live in the dirty air of the Americans, who were able to continue to work the right-hand side of the course, handing them a slight further advantage, but the margin was still slim.
Meanwhile, Emirates Team New Zealand fluffed a tack momentarily and splashed down, slowing them in the process, all of which helped to hand American Magic a few more metres.
By the top gate on the first lap, American Magic took the right-hand mark to lead Emirates Team New Zealand by 12 seconds.
But by the bottom mark, Emirates Team New Zealand had hauled American Magic in to trail by just 3 seconds as they went through the leeward gate.
The big race changing moment was to come at the top of the second beat when the Americans fell off their foils through a tack and parked up just short of the windward gate.
The mistake proved costly, handing the lead to the Kiwis who rounded the windward mark 54 seconds ahead.
From there, Emirates Team New Zealand cruised to victory sailing the final lap unchallenged to win by 1 minute 19 seconds.
Port: INEOS TEAM UK
Starboard: New York Yacht Club American Magic
Length: 1.53 nm
Wind 8–15 knots
Winner New York Yacht Club American Magic
The problems started for INEOS TEAM UK (GBR) as they were dealt a penalty for an early entry into the start box, a blow that was to have implications later on.
From here, there was little real engagement. Instead, there was a hint that New York Yacht Club American Magic was keen to take the match to INEOS TEAM UK as they set up to leeward as the pair crossed the start line on time and at speed.
American Magic immediately got the lead and continued to fly, stretching their lead.
At the top of the first beat, the Americans were a minute ahead as they passed through Gate 1. Through the bottom gate, little had changed and the physical distance between the pair was now around 800 metres.
Up the second beat, American Magic slipped over the boundary and was dealt a penalty, they needed to give 50 metres away, a tiny amount given their lead, but an unforced error nonetheless.
Meanwhile, with the wind gradually dropping, the Sir Ben Ainslie team was struggling up the beat. By the time they had passed through Gate 3, they were 3 minutes 29 seconds behind.
As the breeze continued to drop, even American Magic struggled to recover from a bad tack. But in this race, they had a big safety margin and as INEOS TEAM UK went through the penultimate gate they were 5 minutes 48 seconds.
Port: Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
Starboard: Emirates Team New Zealand
Current: 0.3 knots @ 325
Wind 6–9 knots
Winner Emirates Team New Zealand 0:16
There was everything to play for in this last race and the show the teams put on didn’t disappoint.
At the start, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli showed their intent by performing a perfect port tack shortly after forcing Emirates Team New Zealand down into an area of the start zone nicknamed coffin corner by the sailors. It certainly was for Peter Burling, who was forced to follow the Italians lead, already over 200 metres ahead.
By the first gate, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli was ahead by 32 seconds. But the margin was about to grow quickly as Emirates Team New Zealand pinched around the top mark and came off their foils in the process. Struggling to get back up to speed saw the margin grow to 800 metres.
Shortly afterward, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli splashed down as well. With both boats off their foils, the match was now a race about who could take off.
Here, it was Emirates Team New Zealand who took flight first, doubling their speed over Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, 24 to 12 knots respectively. But the news for the Italians was about to get even worse as the Kiwis stayed with their breeze to sail at 29 knots, while Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli struggled to break 15.
Through the bottom gate, Emirates Team New Zealand was clearly in the lead. The race had been shortened, but there was still another lap to go – every reason for the Italians to keep the pressure on.
Minutes later, Emirates Team New Zealand performed a poor tack and fell off their foils and slowed down, allowing Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli to haul back up into contention. With just metres between them, the race was back on. Staying on the foils would be a crucial factor that was now influencing the teams’ tactics. Locking horns was now secondary to steady flight.
By the last gate rounding, there was 18 seconds between the pair as Emirates Team New Zealand headed down the right and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli down the left.
The difficulty in pulling off clean gybes was clear to see. At one point, the margin had grown to over 300 metres. But by the finish, it was the Kiwis who had held their lead to finish 16 seconds ahead of the Italians and, in doing so, win the PRADA America’s Cup World Series.
Emirates Team New Zealand’s flight controller Blair Tuke said, “We were pretty nervous when the breeze dropped into the 6-knot region and we fell off the foils, but it’s been an epic day’s racing.”