So, what do we know now? The pre-event practice racing that has been held in Barcelona ahead of the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova i La Geltrú from the 14-17 September 2023, has given us an early look into the form and revealed much about the sailor’s approach to pure one-design AC40 fleet racing. The racing has been remarkably competitive with a huge premium on boat positioning with very few passing lanes. Downwind work has arguably seen the biggest gains amongst the front runners and the premium on constant flight is a given. The world’s best foiling sailors, the golden generation of foilers, are certainly not disappointing and we can expect fireworks when all six AC40s line up for eight fleet races that will decide the top two boats to proceed to the match-race final – winner-takes-all.
Here we analyse and assess who is expected to do well in Vilanova i La Geltrú:
Emirates Team New Zealand:
The Kiwis have performed consistently in the Practice Racing in Barcelona with a tight-knit team that trust in their process. Seemingly preferring mid-line starts and then applying pressure on boats to windward with their high mode and low riding, Peter Burling and Nathan Outteridge have proven to be excellent front-runners once ahead whilst being determined chasers when behind. As defenders of the America’s Cup and with a lot of time on the water, they are the team who always have a target on their back and there’s a sense that several teams are rapidly closing the gap. Will be interesting to see how they go in Vilanova.
INEOS Britannia: Luke Parkinson told it straight when he said that the team hadn’t done enough racing and sailing in the AC40 and for the Challenger of Record it has been a tough few days’ of racing in the practice regattas. At times brilliant, Ben Ainslie’s starting has been world-class but poor execution of manoeuvres, particularly downwind, has cost them dearly. However, this is a team with superb coaches, who learn fast and there is no more dangerous a sight in world sailing than Ben Ainslie with his back to the wall. Giles Scott is a super-rapid sailor with a lot of experience at the top level of foiling whilst the team has plenty of experience to call up for Vilanova in terms of trimmers. Could be dark horses to show well.
NYYC American Magic: The Americans chose to sit out the first few days of the recent practice regatta, preferring to complete their aero and foil testing schedule, but when they came to the racecourse, they were sensational. This is, no doubt, the team to beat with Tom Slingsby, Olympic Gold medallist and Paul Goodison, a three-time International Moth World Champion, looking for all the world like the best pairing in this America’s Cup cycle. Able to sail high upwind with a super low-ride, their brilliance is mirrored downwind with relentless pace and superb trim. American Magic very much look the real deal with so many hours of practice under their belt two-boat tuning in the AC40, and their technique in all conditions is impressive. Many people’s pick to win in Vilanova, the Americans are looking tasty.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli are the one team that everyone is watching closely and carefully. Unafraid to ride very different modes to the others, the Italians have a playbook for every scenario and at times have shown unbelievable boatspeed. Their starting has been hit or miss and when they make a mistake, they are quick to bail and try another tactic. Francesco Bruni is a perfect foil for the mercurial genius and downright competitiveness of Jimmy Spithill whilst their Flight Control team of Vittorio Bissaro and Andrea Tesei are arguably the best in the business. If the Italians can string together some consistent results early on, they could easily make the match-race final.
Alinghi Red Bull Racing: The bull is charging. Arnaud Psarofaghis and Maxime Bachelin have formed a dynamic partnership, rooted in steady progression, and Alinghi Red Bull Racing have surprised to the upside in the practice regattas. The Swiss are getting more and more comfortable with front-running when ahead whilst their tenacity to fight back when behind is impressive. Boat-handling is still a work in progress, but the team have made big gains downwind to compete with and beat the established teams. Starting has been generally on the money and they are a team that everyone is watching on the racecourse. Can the Swiss make it to the final? That’s the big question and early results in Vilanova will be crucial to their overall regatta chances.
Orient Express Racing Team: Having taken delivery of their AC40 just last month, the French are methodically approaching the Preliminary Regatta with ‘humility’ according to their coach Thierry Douillard, but they have shown early signs of being more than capable of taking race wins and collecting scalps. The French are brilliant sailors, of which there is no doubt, and Quentin Delapierre and Kevin Pepponet are forming a formidable afterguard. Whether they can challenge for the title in Vilanova is a tall ask with so little time in the AC40 compared to the more established teams, but they will acquit themselves well and could easily score memorable and morale-boosting race wins. The team to watch and cheer on.
The first Preliminary Regatta on the road to the 37th America’s Cup, begins in Vilanova i La Geltrú with practice racing on Thursday 14th September 2023 with the racing starting on Friday 15th and running through to the deciding match-race final on Sunday 17th September 2023
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