Ainslie faces an Italian job to keep America's Cup dream alive

Sportsbeat
·3 min read
Former America's Cup winner skipper Jimmy Spithill will be Ben Ainslie's rival in the Prada Cup final, the winner of which will contest the 36th America's Cup
Former America's Cup winner skipper Jimmy Spithill will be Ben Ainslie's rival in the Prada Cup final, the winner of which will contest the 36th America's Cup © COR 36 | Studio Borlenghi

By James Toney

Sir Ben Ainslie now knows who he has to beat if a British boat is to challenge at the business end of the America’s Cup for the first time since 1964.

American Magic’s nightmare in Auckland continued as they lost their fourth straight semi-final race to Italians Luna Rossa, who now face Team Ineos UK in a best of 13 series for the right to challenge New Zealand for sport’s oldest international trophy in March.

Luna Ross helmsman Jimmy Spithill, a two-time America's Cup winning skipper, will now have two weeks to prepare for the Prada Cup final, with confidence renewed.

And he claims the boat and crew have already made dramatic improvements since their three round robin defeats to Ainslie in the first stage of the regatta, in which the British boat, Britannia, remained unbeaten.

Aussie skipper Spithill - once nicknamed ‘Jimmy Pitbull’ - is one of sailing's most combative characters and usually at his best when an underdog.

It's just eight years ago since he engineered one of sport's greatest comebacks to beat New Zealand in San Francisco, with a crew that include Ainslie as his tactician.

"We felt we left a lot on the table in our races against the British but we know what we need to do and you can always get better," he said.

"We've been critical and candid about what we needed to improve to get some payback when it matters.

"When you look at the racing we had against them it was pretty competitive but I believe we've had the best preparation coming into this.

"They are a tight outfit and we won't be underestimating them but we'll certainly be putting the hammer down."

Just 13 days ago, Patriot had nearly sunk when the boat capsized and frantic work to get her back on the water was impressive but clearly there were issues below the surface.

The New York Yacht Club challenge arrived in Auckland as the hot favourite to emerge triumphant from this three boat series but ultimately lost all ten of their races.

“The America’s Cup is a brutal game,” said skipper Terry Hutchinson, as he choked back the tears.

“We’ve had a lot of people support us and ultimately you feel a responsibility to that. I wear these things on my sleeve.

“Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose and we always felt we had done things in the correct manner to be on the right side here. All we can do is take it on the chin.

“If we’re fortunate enough to be back in the 37th America’s Cup we’ll learn from these mistakes and be better for it.”