Al Hudayriat island off the coast of Abu Dhabi was the scene of another classic Italian sporting victory in 24 hours as Filippo Ganna scorched a blistering average speed of 55.981kph to obliterate the time trial stage of the UAE Tour – a cycling season opener. To see Ganna, or ‘Top Ganna’ as he’s nicknamed after the Tom Cruise movie is to witness power and poise in perfect symmetry. If you get the chance, watch it. It’s one of the greatest sights in modern day sports. He’s the World Champion but quite clearly not of this world. It’s incredible to watch. Top level sport, no matter what the discipline, has such a power to excite and inspire with endlessly fascinating individuals dedicated to perfection. Chapeau Filippo. Outstanding. It’s good to be Italian right now.
And that was pretty much the feeling after the Prada Cup Final ended. Top level sportsmen going head to head and the best team winning. On reflection it was a mighty performance by the Italians and it’s interesting to hear now the analysis filtering back, by whatever means, that Luna Rossa were such a class act. The sailors knew they would win. The signs were all there and that Prada boat is a rapid machine that just needed to be sailed well with performance to burn in every department.
And you have to admit that Luna Rossa are playing the great Cup game the way they want. No prisoners are being taken. No quarter given. It’s impressive. There’s a big lesson there for anyone sitting on the sidelines right now thinking of joining the next Cup. This isn’t a nice place for gentlemen racers or corporate titans with a few shekels to blow, it’s a sunny place for shady people. To win, you’ve got to be ruthlessly determined.
“We will not give away anything. We will push 100%. That’s a promise.” Those were the spot-on words of Francesco Bruni and just what the Tifosi want to hear. And with Jimmy Spithill notably muted in his celebrations, focused even, you can see a playbook of how the next few days are going to go. It’s the classic underdog strategy and it could just be the potent elixir that takes this competition deeper and more intriguing than anyone expects.
Harnessing the natural passion of the Italians to deliver tangible, sustainable speed improvements and relentlessly focussing on crew co-ordination is now key. The pit crews of the Ferrari Formula One team will arrive at a venue and do endless tyre changes, choreographed to perfection. Every hand and foot movement is analysed to achieve peak perfection that’s repeatable. They describe feeling ‘like robots’ by the end of the season and it’s this kind of commitment that can mean all the difference at race pace and millions of dollars of revenue.
For the AC teams, achieving an almost zen state of sailing where everything is on auto-pilot is why Luna Rossa is hitting the water at 5am, raising sails by 7am and practising until dusk. It’s the ‘commitment to the commitment’ that Dennis Conner so brilliantly espoused. Time in the boat is everything. What the sailors now have to rely on is speed being delivered by the shore team and designers. Rumours of Luna Rossa being in its final mode having thrown everything at the semis and then the Prada Cup final are, most likely, well wide of the mark. Performance gains are everywhere in a development class.
And one thing that Luna Rossa has proven time and again is its speed out of the tacks. I’m calling it that we will see the biggest tacking duel of this Cup cycle very early on. If the Italians can get Team New Zealand pinned on a boundary we could see 20 or 25 tacks and the grinders gasping for air, begging for mercy. None will be given. Spithill, Bruni and Sibello will throw everything and the kitchen sink at the Kiwis, desperate to force errors from an un-match fit team. It will be: ‘welcome to the America’s Cup’ and fascinating to watch.
If you’re Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and Glenn Ashby you will just want to get the hell out of there, run like banshees to let boatspeed do the talking, and every indication is that they have it in spades. But what if they don’t? That’s the huge question. What if the Italians step up two or three performance levels and come out with a straight-line speed that matches Te Rehutai? All bets would be off. Put these two teams in similar matched boats and now where do you put your $50 bet?
It could happen. But as Ted Turner once said, “Sport is like a war, without the killing” and for Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand the opening salvos out on the crystal waters of the Hauraki Gulf will be one heck of a spectacle. What an end game.