Emirates Team New Zealand eyes ‘September Showdown’ as Luna Rossa bows out

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Emirates Team New Zealand and Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge are familiar foes in the America’s Cup arena.

The two teams were finalists in the previous Louis Vuitton Cup in 2007 and also squared off for the 30th America’s Cup Match in 2000. Each time the Kiwis came out on top, as they did again today when they won the 30th anniversary Louis Vuitton Cup 7-1.

“I’d like to acknowledge Luna Rossa,” said Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. “We’ve had an amazing relationship with those guys over the last year and a half. Without them we wouldn’t be here. They’ve improved dramatically and have pushed us to keep improving.”

READ Emirates Team New Zealand wins second consecutive Louis Vuitton Cup

The Kiwis will put their AC72 into the boatshed for a few days of modifications in preparation for the “September Showdown” in the 34th America’s Cup against ORACLE TEAM USA. The racing begins Sept. 7, but before then Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa will renew acquaintances when the Italian team becomes a sparring partner for the Kiwis.

The two teams have been connected at the hip since Luna Rossa decided in the fall of 2011 to challenge. A late entrant, Luna Rossa purchased a first-generation design package from Emirates Team New Zealand and the teams spent close to three months training in New Zealand after Luna Rossa launched its AC72.

“We’re not happy today because we lost the Louis Vuitton Cup, but we lost to probably – I don’t want to wish them bad luck – one of the best teams on the water,” Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said, motioning towards the Kiwi crew. “We have a long history with our teams and it was a pleasure to race them in the final. It’s the first time two challengers have worked so closely together to win the Cup; best of luck to them in the Match.”

Luna Rossa bows out of the competition with its head held high. The Italian team has been a regular participant in the America’s Cup since 2000 and has been a popular champion through the years.

Luna Rossa singlehandedly has spread America’s Cup fever throughout Italy, and after today’s race Sirena said that the team would return for the 35th America’s Cup, whenever and wherever it is held. Sirena is emblematic of the team’s legacy, having started as a mid-bowman with the 2000 team and working his way to skipper for this team.

“It’s been an honor for me to be head of this team,” said Sirena. “In one and a half years we’ve put together a strong team. We made the Louis Vuitton Cup Final when no one gave us a chance.

“I want to thank Patrizio Bertelli for giving us this opportunity,” Sirena said of Bertelli, the syndicate head. “I want to thank our Italian and Kiwi supporters, and all the fans of the team. Thanks to everyone – the wives, the parents and the rest of the team. Without them it’s going to be pretty empty hearted.”

For first-time helmsman Chris Draper the loss stung. Draper, 35, is one of the young guns coming up the ranks of America’s Cup helmsmen. He’d never raced a boat without a tiller before taking the wheels of Luna Rossa, but he put forth a strong effort at the wheel of an “insanely wild” catamaran and showed grace in the face of defeat.

“It hurts bad to lose 7-1,” said Draper. “It’s an emotional moment. We’re very sad but still very proud of what we’ve achieved in the past two months. We’ve improved so much as a team. It hurts a lot today. It would’ve been nice to finish with a proper ding dong, but we’ll keep our chins up and walk away proud.”

Emirates Team New Zealand advances to the America’s Cup Match for the fifth time in the past six contests, dating back to 1995. It has won twice and lost twice, and going forward it carries the hopes of a nation atop its lofty wing sail.

“It’s really important, I mean really important,” said managing director Grant Dalton of the importance to win for the New Zealand public. “The team understands that. The culture of the team is based on a non-selfish attitude of trying to take the Cup away from San Francisco, as nice a city as it is.”

Sean McNeill

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