America's Cup 2021: INEOS Team UK seal challengers final spot with victory over Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

INEOS Team UK have confirmed their spot in the America's Cup challenger final, maintaining their unbeaten record with victory over Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli on Auckland's Waitematā Harbour.

With American Magic sidelined by their spectacular crash last Sunday, the British only needed to start their scheduled 'ghost race' against the New York entry to progress to next month's Prada Cup climax, and will now await the winners between them and the Italians.

"We're happy about that," says skipper Sir Ben Ainslie. "That was the goal and we made it - the boys have done a brilliant job."

"It's a great moment for the team, because we obviously had a tough start and tough build-up to this competition. I'm incredibly proud of everyone.

That said, we know we've still got a long way to go, so while we've got ourselves into the Prada Cup final, it's just one step along the road and now we have to focus on winning that."

With that target achieved, Sir Ben was cagey about whether his crew would venture out on the water for Sunday's final race against Luna Rossa, suggesting that encounter would only take place if weather conditions didn't pose a threat to the wellbeing of his boat, Britannia.

After emerging from the opening weekend of racing with four wins from as many starts, the British needed to beat their Italian rivals to progress, but the result didn't come easily. 

Late wind shifts and course changes delayed the start more than an hour, and when Britannia developed gear problems, Ainslie put the race back another 15 minutes, while his crew worked feverishly to correct them.

"We had a few issues," he says. "We were missing one of the key settings for the power of the boat.

"The guys did an awesome job getting us round the track in one piece and getting the win."

When the contest finally began, it became the most competitive race of the challenger series, with nine lead changes. The British led by two seconds over the first leg and nine seconds after the second.

By halfway, they had extended their margin to 19 seconds, before Luna Rossa began cutting into the advantage and overhauled their rivals on the fourth leg, building a 19-second margin.

As both boats rounded the final mark for the downwind sprint to the finish, Team UK had a one-second lead and the race came down to the final cross, where Luna Rossa helmsman Jimmy Spithill tried unsuccessfully to draw penalty on the British in a last-gasp bid for victory.

Britannia had topped 50 knots downwind and reached 42 knots upwind, while travelling 500m further than its counterpart, Prada.

Beyond Sunday's race programme, the burning question now is whether American Magic can win their race against time to get back on the water and can they recover enough to head the Italians for the other final berth?

Join us at 4pm Sunday for live updates of the America's Cup challenger series