36th America’s Cup: Sir Ben Ainslie and Max Sirena ready for ‘fantastic fight’ in PRADA Cup final

Sir Ben Ainslie, INEOS TEAM UK’s team principal and skipper, believes the PRADA Cup final is going to be a “fantastic fight” when INEOS TEAM UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli take to the water on Saturday.

The PRADA Cup is the winner-takes-all series between the final two challengers standing in New Zealand. The victor will go on and face Emirates Team New Zealand in the 36th America’s Cup match in March, while the loser’s bid to lift the Auld Mug will end.

The America’s Cup was first contested in 1851, it is the oldest trophy in international sport and pre-dates the modern Olympic Games by 45 years.

For a country with a rich maritime history, the Auld Mug is a missing piece of the puzzle for Britain as a British team has never won it.

In Ainslie’s words, it has been 170 years of hurt and now INEOS TEAM UK have reached what they hope will be the first of two business ends, during this year’s America’s Cup competition.

The PRADA Cup final commences with the opening two days of racing on Saturday and Sunday, live on Sky Sports from 3am and repeated again at 8am. It is a first-to-seven-wins series.

Both teams’ boats are packed with competitors who are at the tops of their game and who know each other extremely well. For example, Giles Scott, INEOS TEAM UK’s tactician, was part of Luna Rossa’s team back in 2013 while Jimmy Spithill, the now co-helmsman on Luna Rossa, won the America’s Cup alongside Ainslie when they were together at Oracle Team USA.

“It’s going to be a fantastic fight. That’s why you compete because you want to be up against the best; you want to challenge yourself and you want to be in those situations,” Ainslie said, during the pre-race press conference.

“I fully expect that we’re going to have some amazing racing over the next week or so.

“We saw that with the final race between the two teams, with nine lead changes and the boats being pretty even most of the time, that’s what you want. It’s great for the America’s Cup and for sailing.”

After securing that dramatic victory Ainslie refers to at the end of the PRADA Cup Round Robins, INEOS TEAM UK moved directly into this final while Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli had to return to the water and take on New York Yacht Club American Magic in the semi-final.

After, Spithill made it clear he believes their route through to this winner-takes-all final was ‘the best’. On the other hand, Ainslie told Sky Sports it was always the British team’s plan to try and be fast-tracked through.

“We certainly thought that it was [a more optimal route] we were pushing hard to try and get that direct route into the final. We’ve been making a lot of changes to the boat which have been really positive,” he said.

“Again, our team have really stuck to the task of trying to get every ounce of performance out of the boat, as we know we have to in this game,” the team principal and skipper, added during the pre-race press conference on Thursday.

“So, it’s been a tough period, particularly for the shore team, turning the boat around and then the last 10 days or so we’ve been back on the water and try to get the intensity up, to make sure that we are match fit for competition.”

PRADA Cup Final – Opening Weekend – Live on Sky Sports

The shore team that Ainslie refers to contains around 100 people. While the work to modify and optimise race boat BRITANNIA is kept closely under wraps, some of the logistical elements have been shared with Sky Sports and they really highlight the size and scale of this competition.

BRITANNIA is a 75-foot foiling monohull, she weighs around six to seven tonnes and constantly requires attention and refinement.

“It’s near-on a 24-hour a day operation,” INEOS TEAM UK’s shore team manager Andrew ‘Hendo’ Henderson.

“We have a couple of shifts with people starting super early in the morning in order to get the boat ready to go. Then, when the BRITANNIA comes in after a long day of sailing, there’s another squad who will pick her up and run with her until the wee hours of the morning to get her ready again.

“On a typical [training] day we might launch at 10am in the morning but there are guys here from 6am doing all of the checks; we need to make sure that the boat is perfect before it goes out so that time isn’t wasted on the water.

“The process to launch BRITANNIA alone takes about two hours. She’s picked up with a crane, lifted onto and then a whole series of sweeps are done before signing her off.”

Training in the golden hours.#LunaRossaPradaPirelli#PradaCup #AmericasCup @Prada @Pirelli pic.twitter.com/jU2ETQvAvL

Of course, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli’s shore team have been working hard too, as they look to better INEOS TEAM UK’s developments and return to the water in an even stronger fashion than their rivals.

“Since we raced them last time, we have new foils, a new modified mast, a new set of sails and a lot of development on the software and the systems of the boat,” Max Sirena, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team skipper, said.

“Then we’ve made a lot of improvement in terms of the communication on board. We made a lot of mistakes when we raced against them [last time] and we want to try and make one fewer mistake than them, this time.”

Sailing on the edge#LunaRossaPradaPirelli#PradaCup #AmericasCup @Prada @Pirelli pic.twitter.com/XVrG3hvu2m

Sirena continued to keep the focus on his own team when asked if he feared INEOS TEAM UK ahead of this decisive series, while Ainslie made it clear that’s not the perspective you take into a race.

“We don’t fear anything, you shouldn’t do if you’re going into a race. You respect your opponents, but you don’t fear them,” Ainslie said.

“We think that they [Luna Rossa] are a very good team. They’ve got a great boat across a range of conditions; a great sailing team and we’ve had some great racing already.

“We’re just expecting more of that to come; that’s what we want was competitive sailors. You want to be racing at the highest level against the best and this is it. So, we’re excited.

“For sure, we know that they’re going to be tough to beat, but we’ve prepared the team and the boat for this fight,” Sirena added about the British charge.

“The real enemy is us, it’s not actually INEOS or Ben, We need to sail well against ourselves first and then we’ll see the result.

“Both teams are going to be super ready and aggressive in the pre-starts, Ben, Jimmy and Francesco, are pretty strong in the pre-starts. It’s going to be fun to watch from outside, probably a bit less from inside, but it’s going to be exciting.”

Watch every moment of the America’s Cup challenge, live on Sky Sports. Coverage continues with the PRADA Cup final at 3am on February 13, live on Sky Sports Mix, repeated again at 8am.

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