(Reuters) – After losing five straight races, INEOS Team UK finally got off the mark against Luna Rossa in the Challenger Series final on Saturday to breathe life into the best-of-13 series in Auckland.
Luna Rossa opened the third day of racing with yet another commanding display to win by one minute, 20 seconds and take a take a 5-0 lead, before Team UK expertly navigated their yacht in shifting winds to hit back in the final race.
Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie is aware his team cannot put a foot wrong when they return on Sunday, with the Italians just two wins away from advancing to face holders Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup from March 6.
“They’re not going to give up, these boys. They’re going to keep fighting all the way,” he said. “To get one back, it’s what we needed. In 12-13 knots the boats are pretty even, but below it we struggle.
“We know it, they know it, but that’s the challenge.”
Team UK took a narrow advantage at the start of the final race and moved 32 seconds clear with two legs remaining.
Luna Rossa found some speed on the penultimate upwind leg to close down to within nine seconds, but Ainslie and his crew managed to recover some lost time to cross the finish line 14 seconds ahead.
Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill credited Team UK for their recovery and said his team remained fully focused on the task ahead.
“It is very difficult to sail these boats perfectly. There is never a day when you go out and be 100%,” he said.
“We surely have a few things from both races that we will be reviewing and we will come back tomorrow stronger.”
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by William Mallard)