The final day of the second America's Cup Preliminary Regatta concluded with some spectacular action as the wind delivered on the promise of yesterday. The north-westerly breeze had blown all night and built the waves on the course just off Jeddah's Corniche. Combined with another couple of knots more wind speed it made for testing conditions -- even for these elite sailors.
INEOS Britannia struggled in the first start, approaching the line to the left of the bunch, and crossing late. A couple of tacks later the deficit was a hundred meters to the leader, and they were back in fifth place.
Ben Ainslie and his team picked the correct side on the second leg though, and that saw the team contesting third place at the gate. Unfortunately, a penalty for Orient Express pushed them back so that they rounded the next mark right in front of the British boat. INEOS Britannia dropped back to fifth and had to settle for that, despite pushing the French team hard over the remaining two laps.
A race win for Italy meant that Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli would join Emirates Team New Zealand in the final Match Race, and the last fleet race became all about the third and final place available on the podium. The Swiss team held third by a narrow lead of just four points from INEOS Britannia, with the Americans just one point behind the Brits in fifth.
There was all to play for, and the eighth and final fleet race was the perfect moment for the British team to dispatch their best start of the event. They won the pin end of the line with pace, but the first leg was very tight. Approaching the top of the course, INEOS Britannia had to make a difficult maneuver close to Orient Express. Unfortunately, the British had to settle for fifth at the gate.
They were going the right way as the second leg started though, and by the half-way line had fought their way back up to third. By now the conditions were testing everyone, with race leader Alinghi Red Bull Racing handing the advantage to Emirates Team New Zealand after a poor gybe. Moments later INEOS Britannia had the same problem, with a near-capsize after a gybe on the boundary. By the time the team recovered control, they were in last place. It looked like that might be how it would finish, but another handling error, this time from the Italian team, allowed INEOS Britannia to pass and get back to finish fifth.
Those results in the final fleet race saw the British team drop to fifth place overall, just two points behind the winners of the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova – American Magic. While it was a vastly improved performance, the team finished with an inevitable feeling of frustration that it could have been even better.
In the match race final, the Italian team pushed New Zealand hard all the way around the course, until a near spectacular capsize. It left the America's Cup Defenders as champions, with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli second, and Alinghi Red Bull Racing completing the podium in third.
“It's a frustrating result but there is still plenty to take away, lots of learnings and massive improvement from last time out in Villanova,” commented skipper and CEO Ben Ainslie. “ That's pleasing, but we certainly wanted to be higher up the leader board.
“We have learned way more than we thought we would from these two AC40 events. Disappointing as the results are in many ways, they have been a massive boost to our campaign. Without these events, undoubtedly, we would not have been as competitive next year in Barcelona.
“So, that's just how important it has been to have this opportunity to race and to learn from the whole fleet -- especially ETNZ, and congratulations to them on a dominant performance. And a big thank you to our organizers here in Jeddah, it's been a phenomenal event, brilliant conditions, the hosts have been truly wonderful .”