High winds and harsh reality blew away American Magic’s hope of a fairytale return to the America’s Cup challenger series when Italy’s Luna Rossa won both races on the first day of the best-of-seven semi-finals.
The return to competition of the US team’s race boat Patriot only 12 days after it capsized, was holed and came close to sinking during a round-robin race against the Italian team was enough to spark the admiration and imagination of any sporting romantic.
But pragmatism intruded on Friday when Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, with Australian Jimmy Spithill at the helm, sailed clinically in tough conditions at Auckland to win the first race by two minutes, 33 seconds and the second race by three minutes, seven seconds.
With two more races on Saturday, two on Sunday and a tiebreaker if required on Tuesday, Luna Rossa needs only two more wins to progress to a Prada Cup final showdown with Britain’s INEOS Team UK.
The winner of the Prada Cup will take on defender Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup regatta in March.
“Tomorrow we come back out swinging, that’s all you can really do,” American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson said. “We know Luna Rossa is a formidable team and, on top of the conditions today just being hard, I think we just have to sail better.”
If American Magic could take anything positive from its start to the semi-finals it was that Patriot stood up to some of the toughest conditions teams have had to contend with in the regatta so far.
The wind was regularly only a couple of knots below the 21-knot upper limit in which racing could take place and there were severe gusts at the top mark.
Patriot also showed impressive speed, edging over 53 knots (98 kph) near the top mark in the first race. But there were tactical, handling and control issues aboard the American boat which lost both starts and crashed badly at the last mark in the first race, losing almost two minutes.
The starts were important Friday and Luna Rossa’s Spithill won both, allowing the Italian boat to lead around the course in both races.
Luna Rossa seemed to have made a considerable leap forward since the round-robin stages when it looked best in light winds.
It was fast and stable in Friday’s higher winds and was well sailed by Spithill and Francesco Bruni.
“We’re super happy,” Bruni said. “Winning a race in so much wind is always really good.
“I think it’s hard for any boat in such a gusty top mark. It’s almost worse when you have 20 knots and a puff to 30 knots when you’re bearing away and the rudder is always on the edge. We don’t want big rudders, we want go fast but you seem to miss control at the top mark.”