'Fantastico!' - Italy's Luna Rossa qualifies for America's Cup

Auckland (AFP) –


A jubilant Luna Rossa will race holders Team New Zealand for the America's Cup after completing an overwhelming 7-1 victory over Ineos Team UK in the challenger series final in Auckland on Sunday.

"Fantastico! Fantastico, Bellissimo," a delighted Luna Rossa helmsman Francesco Bruni said as the Italian entry sealed victory in race eight.

"This is (a) great day for us, a great day for Luna Rossa, a great day for Italy. We are very, very happy. We are in for a good fight for the America's Cup now."

Luna Rossa began the day with a 5-1 lead and -- with the Team New Zealand crew keeping a close watch on proceedings -- they comprehensively won races seven and eight to take an unbeatable lead in the best of 13 series.

They won race seven by one minute 45 seconds and wrapped up the challengers' elimination series with a 56-second margin in race eight to crush the hopes of Ineos skipper, British sailing legend Ben Ainslie.

For most of the series, the key difference was the ability of Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill to outmanoeuvre Ainslie at the start and inevitably first across the start line was first to finish.

Ainslie won the start in race six and steered Ineos to its sole victory.

He also won the start of race eight, his last-ditch attempt to stay in the contest, but Luna Rossa produced superior speed to take the lead halfway down the first leg in the only over-taking manoeuvre in the challenger final.

"Sorry guys," Ainslie could be heard apologising to his crew at the end of race eight before later congratulating Luna Rossa.

"I've got to say well done Luna Rossa and well done Italy," Ainslie said.

"I know it's a big deal in Italy getting into the America's Cup final.

"We're obviously disappointed we didn't get through and we have to go away, go back to the drawing board and see what we can do."

The first race in the best-of-13 America's Cup between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa is on March 6.