America's Cup Challenger of Record Luna Rossa has emphatically dismissed talk the syndicate would be happy for a delay to the regatta in Auckland next year.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Herald from the Italians' base in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia, skipper Max Sirena confirmed Luna Rossa would be the last of the challengers to set up in Auckland, preferring to sail in the warm Mediterranean waters until late September before flying the syndicate's two boats to Auckland in October.
American Magic hope to be sailing on the Waitemata Harbour sometime next month while INEOS Team UK would like to be here in September.
Covid-19 forced the Italians into lockdown for a month, unable to sail, and came shortly after their first boat suffered heavy damage in mid-March. It prompted some discussion and murmurings in sailing circles that Luna Rossa would not be ready for the World Series regatta in Auckland in December, and would be happy to see March's America's Cup delayed.
Sirena has laughed off those rumours.
"There is no truth at all and I really hope the Cup is in New Zealand in 2021. I'm the last one who wants to postpone the Cup, even from a personal point of view. They're just rumours, and I don't even know where they're coming from, but we don't want to postpone the Cup at all."
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While American Magic CEO Terry Hutchinson and his INEOS Team UK counterpart Grant Simmer have been vocal in their frustrations about a lack of answers from the New Zealand Government over when they can get their foreign citizens into the country, Sirena is singing off a different song sheet.
"I don't want to be problematic, but it was a waste of time to put pressure on the Government," Sirena said.
"I think New Zealand actually did pretty well to manage Covid-19. It's not straightforward - I've been involved with the local authorities here in Italy and every time when there is someone who needs to make a decision there will always be someone unhappy.
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"There is no need to go to New Zealand today, you can have a plan B."
Sirena is sure the Challengers will be allowed into the country in due course and says his team is working closely with the authorities and the Italian ambassador, liaising daily. Sirena was with Team New Zealand for the successful challenge in 2017, and points out that they were the last to arrive in Bermuda.
"If you look at New Zealand for the last campaign, there were four teams training for months in Bermuda, and we went there later and smashed it, so at the end of the day the America's Cup is about having a fast boat."
Sirena claims Luna Rossa's travel plans have not changed drastically due to Covid-19.
"Without Covid we probably could have gone a couple of weeks [earlier], but we want to use the good weather here in Italy and come in to spring in New Zealand."
Sirena felt Luna Rossa had coped well with the impact of Covid-19, despite Italy being the first country in Europe to suffer severe consequences.
"Obviously we have been affected like everyone else but I think we did actually pretty well to not overreact. I think we were a little bit unprepared generally in Italy but we did well as a team in the sense that as soon as we saw the first case in Italy we basically put ourselves in lockdown - we shut our doors and we stopped having people going in and out.
"That guaranteed us to be able to work with all the restrictions applied. There's a downside of not staying on the water but the good thing was we regrouped and thought about what to change and switched from racing mode back to development and research.
"We had some pretty tough moments - at the beginning some of the people were scared because we were facing something that is not visible, something new for the community. I spent a bit of time talking with all the team members individually, and we did all the checks and medical tests and luckily nobody was positive."
Just before Italy went into lockdown, Luna Rossa suffered a major mishap on the water, breaking a bobstay - a cable that attaches to the outer end of the bowsprit. The unsupported sprit tore clean out of the boat, resulting in some spectacular damage.
Sirena says it was down to just how hard the team was pushing.
"We pushed hard on everything from a structural point of view, and when you push to the limit you have to accept the fact you will have some damage. I think it's a learning process in a new class. We pushed pretty hard to get a light boat and I think we've achieved that.
"With the experience of the breakdown of the bowsprit we've made some changes to both boats."
While Sirena is the skipper, Luna Rossa acquired a high-profile helmsman in Jimmy Spithill, the former Oracle Team USA helmsman who spectacularly defeated Team New Zealand from 8-1 down in 2013 in San Francisco. Sirena is glowing in his praise for the Australian.
"He's a good guy, he's a good team player and is a good motivator and he's pushing the young guys because he's probably one of the fittest guys in the gym as well. If you take aside the helm skill I still think it's a big bonus for the team - it's great to have a guy with his experience."
Sirena is looking forward to eventually getting to Auckland with his family, a place he describes as a second home. He has the utmost respect for Grant Dalton and the sailing team, admitting they will be extremely formidable.
"One of the strongest things about Team New Zealand is they are super tight; everyone is focused on the goal – there is no time for bullshit or wasting time. Everyone is working with a clear idea and with a clear goal and I think that is one of the differences between Team NZ and most of the teams I've been involved with. I think it's a Kiwi way of life - it's a Kiwi way of thinking which is not easy to copy."
Being defender gives Team New Zealand an advantage, but like all the other challengers, Sirena says winning the America's Cup will ultimately come down to who has the fastest boat.
"Team New Zealand has an advantage for the fact they are already in the final and that's the biggest advantage. There is an advantage because with these boats too I guess they can launch their second boat a little bit later than all of us, so they will have a bit of time to react if they need to. But at the end, it's all about the boat - if your boat is fast you win the Cup."