America’s Cup 2021: Why Luna Rossa vs Ineos Team UK series could be best challenger final in history


Over the next 10 days or so, Auckland could bear witness to the best challenger final in America’s Cup history.

Whatever the label you attach, the series between Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa has all the ingredients to be special.

It would be appropriate, as the previous high water mark for the challenger decider was on the Hauraki Gulf, when Prada pipped America One 5-4 in 2000.

That series was a true classic – the Italians were ahead 3-1, then trailed 4-3 – and there were only two winning margins of more than a minute.

But such a tight contest has been an anomaly over the years, since the first challenger final in 1970, with most being one-sided and predictable.

The first three (1970, 1974, 1977) were clean sweeps (Australian boats beating European opposition) and in both 1980 and 1983 Australia II were comfortable 4-1 winners.

Stars and Stripes dominated KZ7 in 1987, though it was closer than the final 4-1 scoreline indicated.

Team New Zealand destroyed the rebuilt One Australia 5-1 in 1995 – leading around every mark in five of the races – and were similarly clinical in 2007 against Luna Rossa (5-0).

In Bermuda in 2017 Team New Zealand always seemed to have a slight edge on Artemis Racing (5-2) and the Louis Vuitton Cup final in San Francisco (7-1) was almost a non-event, as Team New Zealand won five races by massive margins and their only loss was due to a disqualification.

Apart from 2000, the only other truly exceptional challenger final came in 1992 in San Diego.

New Zealand were ahead 3-1 and crossed first in the fifth race, only for the result to be annulled following a successful protest over NZL20’s bowsprit.

That incident changed the momentum, with II Moro de Venezia winning four consecutive races to eliminate the Kiwis, but the racing was tight throughout, with five races decided by less than a minute.

The 2021 challenger final is set up perfectly and the outcome is a mystery.

The margins in their three round robin races were 28, 18 and 33 seconds, though the British led by only one second at the fifth gate in the most recent clash.

The Italians had led late in that race, and were also dominated the initial race on January 17, which was abandoned after four legs due to a major wind shift.

Ben Ainslie and Jimmy Spithill are two of the best match racers of their generation while Francesco Bruni and Giles Scott are highly accomplished.

As challenger of record, racing in the Prada-sponsored series, Luna Rossa have a heavy weight of expectation, trying to reach the Cup match for the first time in 20 years.

And Ainslie needs success to fuel more interest in Britain, who haven’t challenged the defender for the Auld Mug since 1964.

“It is going to be a fantastic fight,” said Ainslie. “That is why you compete – because you want to be up against the best. I expect we are going to have some amazing racing over the next week or so. Pretty even boats and that’s what you want. It’s great for the America’s Cup and for sailing.”

America's Cup challenger finals

2017: Team New Zealand 5 Artemis Racing 2
2013: Team New Zealand 7 Luna Rossa 1
2007: Team New Zealand 5 Luna Rossa 0
2003: Alinghi 5 BMW Oracle 1
2000: Prada 5 America One 4
1995: Team New Zealand 5 One Australia 0
1992: II Moro de Venezia 5 New Zealand Challenge 3
1987: Stars and Stripes 4 New Zealand Challenge 1
1983: Australia II 4 Victory ’83 1
1980: Australia 4 France III 1
1977: Australia 4 Sverige 0
1974: Southern Cross 4 France 0
1970: Gretel II 4 France 0

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.

• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit

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