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By James Toney
Sir Ben Ainslie’s £110 million America’s Cup campaign is hanging by a thread in Auckland.
Following a week of off the water drama, in which Italian rivals insisted the rules regarding the timetable of racing must be followed despite increased coronavirus restrictions in New Zealand, Ainslie’s difficulties continued.
After picking up a start line penalty in the fifth race, Team Ineos UK’s aggressive tactics falling fractions short of success, Luna Rossa sailed away to take a 5-0 lead in the best-of-13 Prada Cup final series, which decides who faces the hosts in the 36th America’s Cup match.
Ainslie’s team, unbeaten in the round robin regatta that saw US challenger American Magic eliminated, were starting to stare at impossible odds, as Luna Rossa appeared to dominate every metric required for success.
But the four-time Olympic champion is famed for his comebacks and a confident victory in the sixth race provides some much needed momentum, though winning six of the remaining seven races appears a stretch beyond even his trademark powers.
In addition, Sunday’s forecast in Auckland is for lighter winds, which won’t help Ainslie’s cause, Luna Rossa clearly enjoying a significant edge when the breeze drops below 12 knots.
— americascup (@americascup) February 20, 2021
“We’ve been on the wrong side of things so we’re just happy to get a win,” said Ainslie.
“These guys aren’t going to give up, we’re going to keep fighting all the way and that win is what we needed.
“We’ll keep tweaking this boat and try to get it going faster but they are sailing really well across all the wind ranges. We’ve made some improvements in lighter airs but it’s still not enough.
“We’re not happy to be 5-1 down, it’s not where we want to be but momentum is everything in sport.”