Gianni Agnelli, the noble father of the America’s Cup, in Lapo Elkann’s memory

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“Allright Ricci, let’s do the America’s Cup,” said Gianni Agnelli after hearing from young Cino Ricci about the Azzurra project.. So began forty years ago Italy’s adventure in the America’s Cup, the one that now, with Luna Rossa, is thrilling all Italians. Agnelli concluded, before dismissing Ricci, “But let’s not make Italy look like chocolatiers.”

Gianni Agnelli’s 100th birthday

These days mark 100 years since the birth of Giovanni Agnelli, (died 2003) known as the Avvocato, in the 1980s surely the most influential and famous Italian in the world. A great lover of sailing. Grandson Lapo Elkann remembered his grandfather in Friday’s Repubblica, interviewed on the 100th anniversary of his birth. He did not speak about the figure of the lawyer as a captain of industry, owner of the then largest company in Italy, Fiat, but as a great lover of sailing and the sea.

I like the wind because it can’t be bought

Lapo recounts, “He loved the sea, as a place of freedom and Western civilization, of risk, of tide as a metaphor for life.”

Why did Gianni Agnelli like sailing so much? The memory goes to a famous aphorism of his: “I like it because wind is the only thing you cannot buy.”

Among grandson Lapo’s fondest memories of his grandfather is racing the Fastnet in 2001 aboard the marvelous maxiyacht Stealth that Agnelli had designed for himself by German Frers.

With that then futuristic boat, Lapo Elkann retains one of the memories he will never forget: One of the best moments was when we participated and won the Cowes Regatta in 2001. Anyone who loves the sea should, if only for once, at least watch if not participate in the Fastnet Race, which runs from the harbor on the Isle of Wight – in England – to the Fastnet Lighthouse, rounds that legendary rocky outcrop south of Ireland and heads for Plymouth. The strength of the wind and waves are such that it is like going on the trail of the flood“.

Cino Ricci
Cino Ricci

When he picked up the phone and found the money for Azzurra.

We said that he, Gianni Agnelli, is the noble father of Italian challenges in the America’s Cup. Here is a recollection of the precise moment in February 1981 when the dream of an Italian boat in the America’s Cup came true in the memory of Cino Ricci: “I think back to the lawyer’s words. Ricci, he convinced me…(…) I believe it, but it still seems impossible. I review the scene.

At first the Advocate is a bit skeptical, but then he begins to believe. Yes, Ricci, I believe you, it’s a good project… We do it… But we have to find the sponsors…. Who are we putting in? He picks up the phone, which remains in midair, looks at me, and almost guessing my thought–no, no, Fiat no–and he gets Barilla, Cinzano–he tells everyone that the America’s Cup is on. (…) I am surprised. It doesn’t say we’ll see, let me think… No, it really says: it’s done… With only one recommendation, though… Ricci, let’s not go and look like chocolatiers…

Gianni Agnelli
Gianni Agnelli (center) talks with Riccardo Bonadeo (right) behind the Azzurra team in 1983.

The America’s Cup has been on his mind since the 1960s

Agnelli did not reveal it to Cino Ricci, but it was from 1960, when with Beppe Croce (then president of the Italian Sailing Federation) he went out to Newport in a boat with John Kennedy, that he was thinking about an Italian challenge in the America’s Cup.

This was witnessed by Beppe Croce himself, who was also president of the oldest yacht club, the Yacht Club Italiano, to which Agnelli belonged. Croce confessed to the Giornale della Vela in 1979:Gianni absolutely wanted an Italian boat to participate in the America’s Cup. But he had two doubts: he didn’t want to put in all the money, and he thought we didn’t have enough know-how to participate without making a fool of ourselves“.

Then, as we have seen, Agnelli recanted. First, because he put only one 18th of Azzurra’s budget made up of just 17 other sponsors. And then because he became convinced that with Ricci we would not “look like chocolatiers.”

The most beautiful boats in the world were his

Gianni Agnelli’s sailboats were among the most beautiful and envied in the world. But the one everyone remembers is the very one on which grandson Lapo Elkann won the Fastnet. The Journal of Sailing listed it among the 100 mythical boats in history in 2015.

Here is what we wrote about Stealth: “The genius of Germán Frers at the disposal of the Agnelli lawyer gave birth to the Stealth in 1996: a 26-meter boat with a 36-meter mast, built entirely of carbon except for the elegant teak deck. Blackest. In 1998 the boat accrues the Mediterranean crossing record, in 2001 it won the Fastnet among monohulls and the Jubilee Regatta (around the Isle of Wight to celebrate 150 years of the America’s Cup) in real time“.

 


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