America’s Cup 2021: Ineos Team UK skipper Sir Ben Ainslie analyses upcoming clash between Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand

Team New Zealand will be a formidable proposition in the America’s Cup – but don’t write off the chances of Luna Rossa.

That the verdict of Ineos Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie, after bowing out of the regatta on Sunday, defeated 7-1 by the Italians in the Prada Cup final.

Ainslie said the Italians would be underdogs but felt anything was possible next month.

“It is going to be tough,” said Ainslie. “We know how good the Kiwis are. It’s a bit like taking on the All Blacks at Eden Park, round here on the Hauraki Gulf.

“[But] Luna Rossa have proven to be a really strong team and it is sport, anything can happen.”

Team New Zealand were the standout team in December’s America’s Cup World Series, as Te Rehutai looked a shade faster than the challengers, both upwind and downwind.

From that impressive base they have had more than two months of development, as well as plenty of reconnaissance of their opposition. But Luna Rossa are match hardened, with 18 races (Prada Cup round robin, semifinal and final) under their belt already this year.

“[Luna Rossa] have definitely got a chance,” said Ainslie. “They are strong in all conditions but particularly in the lighter airs. They are sailing well as a team and have certainly stepped up. Racing in these finals has been pretty intense at times and no doubt that will help them in the match.

“It will be a fascinating challenge. Team New Zealand are the defenders for a reason. They have been incredibly strong in the America’s Cup history. They have got great designers, sailors, management.

“It is going to be a real battle for Luna Rossa but they have proven they can come through. I wouldn’t be putting my money anywhere right now.”

After looking so strong in the round robin series – where they were unbeaten in five races – Ineos Team UK couldn’t build on that in the final. It felt like they had exhausted their development gains, while the Italians had a lot more in the tank. The conditions didn’t help – with mainly light breezes across the eight races – and Britannia struggled to compete, especially upwind.

“It’s been a tough campaign the whole way through for a number of reasons,” said Ainslie. “Once we have been in New Zealand it has been a bit of a rollercoaster.”

Ainslie said there had been improvements since Bermuda in 2017, though it was hard to assess in the immediate disappointment of defeat. But he left no doubt he would be back for the next Cup edition, in what has become a personal obsession for the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time.

“Everyone knows Britain has never won the America’s Cup,” said Ainslie. “We started off around the Isle of Wight [in 1851] and this is one event we have never won. That’s a huge motivator for the team, myself included. We will keep going until we get there.”

The 43-year-old also hopes that the AC75s become the standard for future Cups.

“This class of boat has been a huge success,” said Ainslie. “The best boat I have ever sailed. It’s perfect for the America’s Cup; it’s at the forefront of technology for the sport and there is the wow factor, with foiling monohulls, so it’s pretty cool.”

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