America’s Cup in Jeddah: Luna Rossa shows off but Team New Zealand wins in the end

Still a razor’s edge challenge between Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand.

Final day of the Jeddah Preliminary Regattas, with a program that included two fleet races and the final match race between the top two ranked teams. Conditions on the water were very similar to Day 2, with a robust thermal breeze between 12 and 18 knots, fairly stable as a direction, which ensured smooth and exciting racing.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli was starting from the second position on the leaderboard, aiming to challenge Team New Zealand and keep Alinghi Red Bull Racing at arm’s length. No changes in Luna Rossa’s crew, which confirms the lineup of the first two days, with helmsmen Ruggero Tita and Marco Gradoni, and trimmers Umberto Molineris and Vittorio Bissaro.

The Italian team cleared the practice of qualifying for the final in race 7, winning it on authority and thus making race number 8, which Luna Rossa did not finish due to a technical problem, irrelevant.

Luna Rossa’s noose diving that caused it to withdraw from the final against Team New Zealand

The final match race was against the “usual” Team New Zealand. Some flaws of inexperience in the 1vs1 skills of the Italian lineup emerged here. While the boat’s handling, in terms of technique and speed, was excellent during the three days in Jeddah, some limitations emerged at the level of inexperience at certain junctures, especially in the start of the final match race against Team New Zealand, but also for example in race number 6 with an overly forced start and the foul on Alinghi. The end of the match race with noose diving, which caused a second retirement on Luna Rossa’s final day, does not factor much more into the overall assessment of the three-day event in Jeddah.

The bottom line, however, is that once again when it comes to a decisive challenge against Team New Zealand, the Kiwis win in the end and Luna Rossa remains second. Out of the picture in this three-day event were the other challengers, as no one was able to break the dominance of wins by the two finalist teams.

Luna Rossa: Tita-Gradoni or Bruni-Spithill?

There is no doubt that compared to the Vilanova leg Luna Rossa took a big step forward: credit to the new crew with Tita, Gradoni and Bissaro? To answer this question first of all it is necessary to remember that the AC 40 is not the 75 with which the America’s Cup will be run in 2024, and the game between the two boats is quite different. As early as the next Preliminary Regatta we will see AC 75s (date to be determined), and the budgets then will become more reliable.

That said, it is just as much in the public eye that what should be a sort of B crew (with only Molineris having taken part in the Vilanova stage) did very well on the water in terms of the end result, speed and boat handling. Can Ruggero Tita and Marco Gradoni then challenge James Spithill and Francesco Bruni for the helm of the AC 75 that will go on to play first the challenger selection and then, hopefully, also the America’s Cup in 2024?

The feeling is that the version seen in the final against Team New Zealand, with a too naive start upwind of a shark like Peter Burling, is not enough for the purpose. Beware, however, because the Italian AC 40 at various junctures seemed dominant in terms of speed, upwind angle, exit from turns; details that, with one-design boats, mean that those on board were doing an excellent job in terms of boat set up, adjustments, and handling. And these aspects seemed significantly more effective than what was seen at Vilanova. The impression is that Bruni-Spithill are still ahead, but their chair is starting to get pretty hot. The veterans in short have been warned.

Mauro Giuffrè

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