Luna Rossa are still relishing an unexpected victory on the first day of the America's Cup Match against Team New Zealand.
The Italian outfit enter day two with a spring in their step, after claiming victory in the second of two races on day one, levelling the best of 13-race series on Auckland's Waitematā Harbour.
It follows ongoing talk of how superior Team NZ's AC75 vessel Te Rehutai is compared to the best of the challengers, with speeds a particular strength waiting to be unleashed in the Cup match.
However, there was little sign of the reported speed edge in the second race, with the visitors racing out to a handy lead after a Peter Burling blunder in the starting box and eventually edging the race by seven seconds.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald, Luna Rossa sailor Pierluigi de Felice says it's great for them to show they can compete with the defender and regatta's pace-setters.
"Happy to come back with one race for us, one race for them, in conditions where all the media around the world was saying that they're way faster than us, so pretty stoked," de Felice says.
"I think we like to be the underdog, plenty of pressure on Team New Zealand and less pressure on us. The reality is no one really knew what the speed [difference was] between the boats before race one.
"Our philosophy here is to take one race at a time, we knew that when we came back on Team New Zealand. We kind of knew that our speed was there and we could do it, and we just completely wiped out race one and went into race two more focused and concentrated, which was great."
Luna Rossa have enjoyed more competitive racing recently in the Prada Cup, while the Kiwis have been reduced to training since the Christmas Cup regatta two months ago.
De Felice believes the extra racing offers them an advantage.
Within that gradual incline in performance has been a raft of changes experimented with and executed on the Italian boat. De Felice says they always look all across the vessel to see what can be improved.
"We look at the sails, the aero package, the foils, the rudder and we don't really leave anything unseen, we're trying to get the best of the best and we're pretty happy where we are.
"There's plenty of small differences that will make a big gain," de Felice says.
One area the Italian syndicate has brushed up on in particular is their communication, which emerged as a problem during the round robin stage of the Prada Cup.
"There was something that we were missing. Since then we've been working really hard through the semifinal and final to make sure everything got tidied up in the communication and on the boat, and we do it every day," de Felice says.
"What we could do better [today] and what we haven't done… a process that's basically never ending."
Luna Rossa have made the Cup match once before, also against Team New Zealand in 2000, where they were beaten 5-0. This time, however, the Italians have a not-so-secret weapon - co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill, who broke Kiwi hearts in 2013 when he steered Oracle to a dramatic come-from-behind win against Dean Barker's Team New Zealand in San Francisco.
De Felice says Spithill's relentless attitude and winning methods have rubbed off on the team.
"I think Jimmy has taken all our Italian side a little bit down, we're more relaxed – trying to keep it cool.
"We like his determination and we like his 'take one race at a time' [attitude] and really focus on what we're doing."
While racing for sailing glory in Aotearoa, the Italian syndicate is no doubt thinking about family and friends back home. Italy remains one of the countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic - with well over three million reported cases and 100,000 deaths.
"We know, especially with the situation there, there's so many people following us right now. People just cheer for us – [it's] basically the biggest sport right now in Italy besides football. We get huge support from the country."
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It's the best way to ride.
• Don't forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America's Cup Village.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.