Luna Rossa chief executive Max Sirena admits Team New Zealand have an edge on the rest of the America's Cup fleet, on the evidence of the practice racing so far this week.
Although there is a long, long way to go, Sirena concedes that the Kiwi boat has been impressive in the early skirmishes on Auckland harbour.
"As I have said many times, the target, the benchmark are the Kiwis," Sirena told the Herald.
"[On Thursday] they showed their good speed, especially upwind. So we need to work to improve our performance upwind, even if [yesterday] we had a few issues and we were not able to sail on our target.
"We knew Team New Zealand did a big step forward with their second boat because we followed them in the last few weeks since they launched [Te Rehutai].
"We know they are pretty strong in every breeze and so we would like to sail against them in lighter conditions to see where they are.
"But I am not surprised at all. They are the Defender and for sure they have an edge on everyone [at the moment]. But we knew that from day one … regardless. They are very smart, it's a good team and they were going to come out with a fast boat."
In blustery conditions on Thursday, Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa had three practice races.
There was some impressive duelling in the pre-starts – it was one aspect that Sirena was happy with on an otherwise below par day – but the Kiwi syndicate displayed superior boat speed on the handful of legs that were raced.
They overhauled the Italians in the second trial, after Jimmy Spithill had gained an edge off the start and then left open water in the third, with the Luna Rossa team not engaging on the first beat, after being outfoxed off the start.
"It's always good to go out in a strong breeze," says Sirena. "[On Thursday] we pushed the wind limits, especially at the beginning of the day.
"We nailed most of the starts but we need to keep working. We didn't sail our boat well. I was happier about the performance the other day (Tuesday) but again it was one of the first days we sailed over 20 knots.
"The boat was all fine; we didn't have a single technical issue it was just us. We need to understand why we didn't sail to our [potential] but it is all about time in the water. We need to sail as much as possible from now until the beginning of the Prada Cup."
Sirena hopes for a range of conditions in the America's Cup World Series next week, to assess the relative strengths across the wind spectrum.
"Some teams [will be] stronger in heavier breeze and someone else more set up for lighter condition so hopefully we can race in all the conditions from strong to medium or light so we are able to cover all the range of the fleet and see where we have to work."
INEOS Team UK are yet to sail this week, grappling with issues believed to be related to the mast on Britannia, while American Magic was also a non-starter on Thursday after some promising work by Patriot on Tuesday.
It's given Luna Rossa extended practice against Team New Zealand, but Sirena says it is premature to talk about advantages for particular challengers.
"Every hour you spend in the water is gold, for everyone, but it is too early," says Sirena.
"Everyone will improve. Even if there is someone who [people] think today is not on the same level or less prepared.
"The Prada Cup is going to be a pretty good learning period for everyone. We have improved our performance in the last few weeks by a lot and everyday there is a different boat which is going faster.
"So it is too early for anyone to come up with a conclusion. For sure you have an idea, but I think it is too early.
"Anything can happen, and we need to look at all the fleet in all the conditions to give a proper judgement and understand how the boats are going."
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