Flight plan for America’s Cup takes off as aeroplane slaloms between boats flying on foils 

Ahead of the first Preliminary Regatta of the 37th America’s Cup at Vilanova i La Geltrú, Spain this weekend, the crews and boats of Alinghi Red Bull Racing (SUI) and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team (ITA) flew across the water as they engaged in a high-speed encounter with an aerobatic aeroplane. At the controls for the one-of-a-kind session were championship-winning helmsmen Nicolas Charbonnier on the Swiss boat and Jimmy Spithill on the Italian vessel, as well as record-setting pilot Dario Costa in the plane.

Vilanova i La Geltrú, Catalonia (SPAIN) – When it comes to physics, elite foiling yachts and aerobatic aeroplanes have much in common, which became apparent on the coast of Vilanova i La Geltrú, Catalonia, Spain when the AC40 boats of Alinghi Red Bull Racing (SUI) and the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team (ITA) mastered the Mediterranean  in a precision “flying”  session with the Edge 540 plane of Italian pilot Dario Costa. As the boats carved the water with their wing-like foils, Costa’s low-flying aircraft sliced through the air around them, much to the delight of sailing fans arriving in the port city for the first Preliminary Regatta of the 37th America’s Cup from September 14–17, 2023.
Tuesday’s session was a momentary break in intense training for the two sailing crews, who are among five Challenger teams aiming for the right to contend against Defender Emirates Team New Zealand when the 37th America’s Cup takes flight at Barcelona’s Port Vell in 2024. Although the results of Preliminary Regattas do not count towards the eventual Challenger Selection Series, this weekend’s Vilanova event is considered the kick-off to the America’s Cup, and it’s one of the most highly anticipated regattas of the season, as it offers the first chance to see how the Challenger teams stack up against each other and New Zealand as well.

According to America’s Cup rules, the Preliminary Regattas use AC40 boats, each with four sailors onboard. With top speeds in excess of 50 knots (over 92 kph), these smaller “sister” monohulls to the mammoth AC75s of the America’s Cup fly across the water just as surely as a plane flies through the air, which made Tuesday’s encounter especially thrilling. The challenge lay in setting up and maintaining precise distances and trajectories among the boats foiling at over 30 knots (55 km/h) on the sea and the plane flying low in the air with a top speed of 350 km/h. The eye-catching result saw Costa approaching the AC40s with his wings in a vertical knife edge. Then, darting lower than the top of their masts – which reach 20m to 21m when foiling  – the pilot flew between and around the boats, essentially navigating a moving slalom course. 
Helming the AC40s for the demanding session were the same exceptional names looking to steer their teams to victory in the Vilanova regatta: Olympic medalist and multi-time world title winner Nicolas Charbonnier for Alinghi Red Bull Racing, and two-time America’s Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill – one of history’s most decorated sailors – for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.
“For me, it was a little bit like Christmas Day, because I have a pilot’s license, and so to be able to see someone of Dario’s level being able to push an aircraft like that is pretty special,” said Spithill. Regarding the racing ahead, he explained, “This is the first time we’ll see the teams together collectively in an open environment, and the first time they are going to line up against one another and race. The big difference here is that in the America’s Cup, the boats are different technically; where in this regatta on the AC40s, everyone has exactly the same equipment. So it’ll be interesting to see which team comes out on top.”

Charbonnier agreed, saying, “The regatta this weekend is one of the only times we get to race each other on this kind of boat – the AC40 – so all of us on the team are super excited to go and bring out our best. He added, “As for the experience with Dario Costa, it was amazing to see this crazy-fast aeroplane. We had to stay focused to keep the right distance between the boats, and we put all our confidence in Dario. It went very well and I think everybody enjoyed it.”
Costa has a 20-year history as an aerobatic pilot and, among other aerial feats, captured the attention of the world by completing history’s longest underground flight – traversing two tunnels outside Istanbul, Turkey in a breathtaking 44 seconds in his 2021 Tunnel Pass project. Being a sailing fan himself, he flew to Spain from his home in Italy especially for the creative session with Charbonnier, Spithill and the elite sailing teams. 

“Today was a special day, flying together with the Alinghi Red Bull Racing and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli teams in a world first,” said Costa, who pulled up to 8 Gs in his trajectory and wore a functional Prada Linea Rossa pilot suit that was custom-made for him. Noting that the winds were 10 knots, he added, “There were several challenges: how low the boats were, the fact that they moving rather than fixed, and the wind. There was a lot to prepare in the past months, but I’m really happy that we managed to do it.”
For this project, the Italian pilot wore a modern suit designed by Prada Linea Rossa that combines fashion and high technical performance, with the long as well as consolidated experience of Dario.
The America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova i La Geltrú will be followed by further Preliminary Regattas in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (November 29 – December 2, 2023) and Barcelona (August 2024).  Free to spectators, the event off Vilanova’s Race Village will begin with opening ceremonies on September 14 and continue with racing from September 15 through 17, when the regatta winner will be crowned.


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Contact: Fabian Ress
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