Sport Aussie skipper Jimmy Spithill earns shot at America’s Cup challenge

Aussie skipper Jimmy Spithill earns shot at America’s Cup challenge

Jimmy Spithill eyes the "Auld Mug" at the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda. Photo: AP
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Australian sailing superstar Jimmy Spithill will contest another America’s Cup after helping to steer Italy’s Luna Rossa to a crushing 7-1 defeat of Britain’s INEOS Team UK in the Challenger Series final in Auckland.

The Italians will now take on holders Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup, the world’s oldest sporting trophy, starting on March 6.

Having won its first race of the best-of-13 series on Saturday, Ben Ainslie’s Team UK made a confident start once again on Sunday and took a slender lead before the Italians roared back into the contest.

Luna Rossa raced past their rivals to take control heading into the first gate and never looked back, crossing the finish line one minute and 45 seconds ahead for a 6-1 lead.

Despite conceding a penalty for an early start in race eight, Spithill and co-helmsman Francesco Bruni found another gear as Luna Rossa coasted to convincing victory by 56 seconds to clinch the series.

Sydneysider Spithill, 41, was skipper and helsman for BMW Oracle Racing when the American team won the America’s Cup.

He went on to defend it twice, both times against Team New Zealand, first successfully in San Francisco then unsuccessfully in the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda.

In this America’s Cup he is one of two helmsmen on Luna Rossa, steering starboard tacks while Bruni steers the boat on port tack.

“Time for high fives,” Bruni said as Luna Rossa sailed towards the finish line. “Bravo to the team, bravo Italy. Fantastico.

“It’s a great day for us, it’s a great day for Luna Rossa and it’s a great day for Italy. We’re in for a great fight for the America’s Cup now.”

Team UK skipper Ainslie is Britain’s most celebrated modern sailor, a winner of four Olympic gold medals.

“They’ve got about two knots faster, so it’s pretty hard to race against that,” Ainslie said. “We’ve been trying everything to get on top of it but clearly we can’t.”

“Well done to Luna Rossa, well done to Italy. I know it’s a big deal in Italy to get into the America’s Cup final..

“They sailed brilliantly and deserved to take the final.”