NZ, Luna Rossa renew America's Cup rivalry
Luna Rossa competes during race four of the Louis Vuitton Cup semi-final in San Francisco on August 10, 2013. Luna Rossa are hoping lessons learned in a semi-final sweep of Artemis will boost their challenge to Team New Zealand in the finals of the America's Cup challenger series.
The best-of-13 Louis Vuitton Cup finals are set to start on Saturday with two races, launching a series that will produce the challenger to take on defenders Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup finals in September.
Emirates Team New Zealand won all of their races against the Italian outfit in the round-robin first round to advance to the challenger finals.
Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper said his team had "learned a lot" in a four-race semi-final sweep of Artemis -- latecomers to the venerable event after the deadly training accident that claimed the life of sailor Andrew Simpson in May.
But Draper noted that Luna Rossa's Kiwi rivals also continued to improve.
"The team has taken a good few steps forward the past couple of weeks," Draper said. "For sure we've improved a lot, but we've all seen the Kiwis are very, very solid. We're going to have to sail incredibly well, and we need to get more performance out of our boat to be competitive with them.
"With regards to boat handling and that sort of thing, I think we're getting a lot closer. But they're still improving and that makes it hard for us to make up ground.
"But we feel a lot happier racing the boat and feel like we're properly racing now. I know it's hard to believe, but it's amazing how unprepared you can feel, these boats are pretty humbling."
Proper racing is just what the latest edition of the America's Cup needs after a round-robin first round that ended up featuring just two teams because Artemis Racing's training accident destroyed their first AC72 catamaran.
Team New Zealand were dominant, and when Artemis at last made it to the start line in the semi-finals they were clearly overmatched by Luna Rossa.
Team New Zealand haven't raced since July 28, when they clinched their berth in the challenger finals with an emphatic, three-minute, 20-second victory over Luna Rossa.
They spent much of the time since on maintenance and refinements to their boat, and skipper Dean Barker is pleased with the progress he has seen in practice.
"We set a new top speed record the other day at the end of practice," said Barker. "I can't say what it is, but almost every day the boat's going faster and faster and becoming more efficient."
Both Barker and Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said pre-start maneuvers and the starts would be crucial in the series.
"Things are very different now compared to the round-robins and semi-final," Barker said. "There's greater emphasis on the start and the first reach and getting out of Mark One in good shape. We've seen it hard for the guy behind to gain enough leverage to really attack. If you can get around the leeward gate ahead you have a very good chance to shut things down."
Added Sirena: "The pre-start is important because if you arrive at the reach mark ahead you have a better chance to lead at the bottom gate. There aren't many options from a tactical point of view. We need to have a good pre-start. We will push hard in the pre-start to be leading at the reach mark."
The first team to score seven points will claim the series and the right to challenge Oracle.