Sailing

Who will be the America's Cup 2021 challenger? Key points to know about the Prada Cup 2021

The best-of-thirteen-race series commences on 13 February in New Zealand to determine the America’s Cup challenger. 

By Sanjeev Palar ·

Sailing’s Prada Cup Challenger Series is set to be raced from 13 to 22 February in Auckland, New Zealand.

The thirteen-race series will be contested between INEOS Team UK from Great Britain and Itay’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli where the first team to win seven races will win the Prada Cup, the qualifying series to the America's Cup 2021.

The winner of this contest will earn the right to face the defending America's Cup champions, Emirates Team New Zealand, in the 36th edition in 2021.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the Prada Cup.

INEOS Team UK are the ones to beat

The initial round-robin phase of the Prada Cup saw INEOS Team UK remain undefeated as they racked up six victories.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli meanwhile managed three victories and were defeated three times. Significantly, the three losses were from their three races against the British team.

The Italians come into the finals in search of their first win against INEOS Team UK and will have no doubt have picked apart their previous encounters in order to strategise a route to victory over their rivals.

INEOS Team UK competing during the 2021 PRADA Cup Round Robins in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Ben Ainslie helms INEOS Team UK

Great Britain’s Ben Ainslie is the helmsman for the INEOS Team UK.

The 43-year-old is perhaps the most successful sailor in Olympic history. He has medalled at five consecutive Games starting with silver in Atlanta 1996 and then four gold medals in a row at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

Ainslie has been racing in the America’s Cup since 2005 and brings with him a wealth of experience. He was integral in Oracle Team USA's remarkable turnaround victory against Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013.

He then started his own team Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) which won the 2015-16 America’s Cup World Series and were eliminated from the 2017 America’s Cup in the semi-finals.

INEOS Team UK is a reincarnation of Ainslie's former endeavour and also features fellow Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott as the team's tactician.

Ainslie has never won the America's Cup with his own team and will be eager for a chance to clinch sailing's most prestigious title.

INEOS Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli know the secret to success

The Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team are led by skipper and team director Max Sirena, a two-time winner who is taking part in his seventh America's Cup challenge.

Sirena's first win was in the 33rd America's Cup in 2010 with BMW Oracle Racing and his second was in the 35th America's Cup (2017) with reigning champions, Emirates Team New Zealand.

However his current campaign with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, for which he first raced for in 2000, is dear to his heart as it will be the Italian's opportunity to claim the title with an Italian team.

Italy's Max Sirena of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

Also racing for the Italians is three-time Olympian Francesco Bruni. The 47-year-old made his Olympic debut at Atlanta 1996 where he finished 12th in the laser class. His attempts at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 did not yield a medal but his depth of experience will be an asset out at sea.

Bruni is very familiar with his current team, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, as he first raced with them back in 2003 when it was known as Luna Rossa Challenge.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team's helmsman Francesco Bruni

The AC75 boats

The teams will race AC75 (America's Cup 75 class) boats, which are 75-foot sailing hydrofoil monohulls built in accordance with the 2021 America's Cup rules and regulations.

AC75 boats feature a unique combination of sailing systems for a monohull such as hydrofoils mounted on port and starboard topside longitudinal drums, a soft double-skinned mainsail, and no keel.

The boats are made up of around 17,300 parts and are capable of reaching speeds of up to 50 knots, or around 90 km/h, as they glide above the surface of the water.

Prada Cup finalist INEOS Team UK (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The prize

The Prada Cup consists of thirteen scheduled races from 13 to 22 February.

However the first team to win seven races will be declared the winner of the Prada Cup.

The winner will then earn the title as the Challenger for the 2021 America's Cup against the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, which is scheduled to be run in Auckland from 6 to 21 March.

Sailing at the Olympic Games

Can you name all of the 10 different sailing classes athletes compete in du...