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Exclusive: Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena: "We are good enough to be in the final"

26 January 2021 • Written by Miranda Blazeby

The road to the 36th America’s Cup, the pinnacle of yacht racing, has been fraught with difficulty. The 2020 America’s Cup World Series races, which were planned to take place in Sardinia and the UK, were cancelled due to the pandemic. This ruled out the crucial first opportunity challengers Luna Rossa, Ineos Team UK and American Magic had to race against each other. Then the Prada Christmas race on December 20 was abandoned due to lack of wind. Now, with American Magic working furiously to repair its damaged race boat Patriot following its dramatic capsize, and Ineos Team UK winning the Round Robins and its place in the Prada Cup final, it is clear that Italian challenger Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli still has many challenges ahead.

Despite this, team skipper Max Sirena remains confident the team can join Ineos Team UK in the Prada Cup final and even challenge defenders Emirates Team New Zealand for the Auld Mug. “First of all, we have to get there but we are good enough to get there,” Sirena says. Indeed, the team swells with experience. This is the seventh America’s Cup challenge for Sirena, two of which were winning campaigns. He sailed to victory with both BMW Oracle Racing in 2010 and Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013. As such, he knows a thing or two about winning. The key, he says, is to take “everything step by step”. “When you only have three challengers, every race counts.”

The cancellation of the World Series races was a blow, Sirena admits, and deprived all three challengers of the opportunity to find their racing stride on the new foiling monohulls. Designed to fly in as little wind as possible, the radical boats are capable of reaching speeds of up to 50 knots. “We were keen to race as much as possible before the competition and what we really missed is actually racing,” Sirena says. “If you look back, what every team needed was more racing with this type of boat.” As defender, Emirates Team New Zealand has played no part in the challenger racing and will not race until the final America’s Cup match starting on March 6. Surely this lack of racing practice must put the defending team at a disadvantage to the three challengers? “This is the reason New Zealand pushed to be involved in the practice [Christmas] race,” Sirena says. “The more races you do the better.”

This lack of prior racing practice resulted in an “escalation of performance” in the Round Robin races, Sirena says. Even now, he believes the teams have further to go in the quality of racing on display. “I don’t think what we are seeing now is the real performance of the three boats,” he says. “We are all in the development process – everyone is changing something each race.” He predicts the challengers will reach their peak racing performance from the Prada Cup semi-final. “From the semi-final, I think we will start to see the final racing package of the teams.”

With the design of each teams' AC75 racing boats kept under wraps until arriving in New Zealand, the competition has been full of surprises. Sirena describes the three-year design process as “very tricky”, with each team striving to “find a way to get a good lift” in varying wind conditions. “What we see today is a reflection of how the teams started three years ago when we thought it was crucial to foil in 6.5 knots,” Sirena says. “Some teams came out with a bigger foil to be able to sail and fly in the light breezes but at the same time you want to be able to fly in the big breezes”. 

Sirena describes the AC75 design as “very sensitive” to wind conditions. “Different arrangements” are set up for varying weather conditions. “Everyone has a different arrangement where they can perform better,” he says, adding that this is “typical of the America’s Cup.” Sirena has observed defender Emirates Team New Zealand’s capabilities on the racecourse. “Different teams are stronger in different conditions,” he says. “Emirates Team New Zealand are really strong and fast, especially in a medium high breeze – they have an advantage on everyone in that.” Despite this, Sirena is confident Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli can be competitive, especially in light conditions. Sailing conditions may have been breezier than expected in New Zealand this summer but as Sirena asserts, “the only thing you can’t control is the time and weather”.

Panerai Luminor Luna Rossa GMT – 42mm

As part of its role as official sponsor of the Luna Rossa Team, Panerai has launched a new timepiece in collaboration with the team. The limited edition run of 250 pieces is constructed from carbon fibre residue collected from the hull and hydrofoils taken from the Luna Rossa AC75 race boat. “We wanted to put together, not just a commercial partnership, but also an exercise in storytelling,” Sirena says about the watch. “We used a lot of technology that we used for the boat and ended up creating a totally unique piece.”

Max Sirena, Luna Rossa skipper wearing the Panerai Submersible Luna Rossa

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