End Game

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.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

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.

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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.

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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.


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5 thoughts on “End Game

  1. Let’s get real here. The data is freely available to us all to see and we already know who will win. TNZ has superior boat speed, period. Could that change? Sure. Will it? Probably not. Can that be beaten with some slick Italian boat handling? No.

    Just look at their smaller, less draggy foils and bigger, more powerful sail. These are fundamental parts of the boat, and at this point in the game Luna Rosa does not have any options. I hate to say it, but the die has already been cast.

    Expect the Americas Cup to have exciting pre-starts, and then watching TNZ sail away. Even if Luna Rosa does successfully tack on them the entire way upwind, just wait for the downwind legs.

    È finita.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s over you can tell when a boat will win 9 races. Etnz is the favorite, no doubt, but the races must be disputed first. American Magic and Ineos were also faster than Luna Rossa, but before you can be faster you need to understand what your speed is for. The buoys are the same for everyone. (sorry for my english,congratulations to Magnus for the prose and the articles, always interesting and beautiful to read)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Magnus hits upon an interesting point.

    Although the team is called Luna Rossa, they bear little resemblance to the charming, affable challengers of 2000.

    The current Luna Rossa resembles more closely the Alinghi culture of 2003 – take no prisoners, ruthless professionalism, hunger for victory. Spithill and Bruni more closely resemble Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth than Francesco De Angelis and Torben Grael. That’s not a dig against De Angelis and Grael who were heavily respected in 2000 for what was the first ever LR challenge. It is a more a reflection of their desire to win and what it takes to win, where a PR game is also being fought to destabilise and upset opponents and critics.

    Mind you, nothing happens in isolation. ETNZ in 2021 isn’t the same team as Team NZ in 2003. This defence, they are in a position of strength with an intact team and presumably a design that is far less fragile than NZL-82. They have clearer executive leadership and a sailing team that looks well honed and tested.


  3. Rumor mill says ETNZ have been hitting over 60 knots, if this is true speed through tacks (which they also have) might be a moot point


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