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Sir Ben Ainslie one win away from America's Cup challenger final

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Sir Ben Ainslie's Britannia leading US team boat Patriot (picture: COR 36|Studio Borlenghi)
Sir Ben Ainslie's Britannia leading US team boat Patriot (picture: COR 36|Studio Borlenghi)

SIR Ben Ainslie’s Ineos Team UK is leading the 2021 Prada Challenger Selection Series after securing four wins from four races as competitors fight to challenge for the America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand.

Having been humiliated in a pre-Christmas warm-up regatta, Sir Ben – who became the first-ever freeman of Lymington and Pennington after his London 2012 Olympics heroics – shocked the sailing world with a dominant start to the qualifying race.

Britannia struggled in last month’s World Series, suffering from mechanical issues before retiring from the second race. The series ended with the British boat losing all six of its races.

However, the British team is now one race win away from a securing a place in the Prada Cup final after winning its first four races before its American rivals pulled out of the remainder of the opening round robin.

The decision came after a dramatic incident which saw New York Yacht Club’s American Magic race boat Patriot fly into the air, before crashing into the water and capsizing.

This means that Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa will battle it out for the top spot in the Prada Cup final, with the Ineos boat 4-2 ahead.

The two will race each other two more times – with the first due to have taken place early this morning (Friday) and the second on Sunday – and a win for Ineos in either will see them automatically qualify for the Prada Cup final.

If the Italians win both remaining heats to level the scores at 4-4, they will progress to the final as the winner of the last race.

Sir Ben Ainslie (picture: COR 36|Studio Borlenghi)
Sir Ben Ainslie (picture: COR 36|Studio Borlenghi)

The Prada Cup winner will then proceed to the America’s Cup contest on 6th March to face holders Team New Zealand.

The Americans hope to complete repairs in time for the Prada Cup repêchage round, starting on 29th January.

This will see the second and third-placed boats face each other for a spot in the final.

Eleven-time world champion Sir Ben, who is an honorary life member of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, said about the capsizing: “I don’t know much about what happened. I’ve seen a video of the manoeuvre, and it’s just horrific.

“You don’t want to see that happen to anyone, but I think everyone is okay, which is the primary concern.

“We go out there and race hard against each other, but this is a sporting contest, and we want everyone to be safe, and we want everyone to be racing.”

Sir Ben is joined onboard Britannia by Richard Mason, who grew up in Lymington and now lives in Southbourne. Richard learned to sail at Salterns Sailing Club and has been involved with the preparations over the last year.

The boat was built in Hythe by Carrington Boats, owned by Lymington resident Jason Carrington.

Sir Ben is the most successful sailor in Olympic history after winning medals at five consecutive Olympics from 1996 onwards. This includes four gold medals at Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London between 2000 and 2012.

In 2013 he lifted the America’s Cup with Oracle Team USA when the US team defeated Team New Zealand in San Francisco.

Should the Ineos outfit make it to the America’s Cup, it will be the first British team to do so since Tony Boyden’s Sovereign raced the Americans in the 1964 contest off Rhode Island.

On that occasion the British team, skippered by Paul Anderson, was comprehensively beaten 4-0 by the American defending champions, Constellation, skippered by Eric Bidder.

This year’s race will be the first time the world’s oldest international sporting trophy will be raced on 75-foot foiling monohulls, which lift out of the water to reduce drag.

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