Note: With the second AC World Series San Francisco fast approaching (Oct. 2-7), we’ll be previewing the teams that’ll be competing in the lead-up to racing.
Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge has two teams entered in the AC World Series, and like some others in the competition it will feature some new crewmembers during ACWS San Francisco. In particular, Luna Rossa welcomes Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez, the Spanish conquistadors of the 49er class.
Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie and America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill might have greater name recognition, but if Luna Rossa Piranha skipper Chris Draper keeps up his winning ways he won’t need to elbow his way in to the recognition banquet. He’ll have earned a seat.
Draper, 34, won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and two world championships in the 49er class, a high-speed skiff dinghy. Since debuting with Luna Rossa Piranha at last April’s regatta in Naples, Italy, his crew has consistently been in the hunt for the podium. Draper pulled out the fleet racing championships at Naples and Newport, and nearly did so again at San Francisco in August.
Draper and crew won a wild fleet race finale, crossing the finish line a split-second after avoiding a disastrous capsize. But the championship was stolen by ORACLE TEAM USA SPITHILL, which finished 3 seconds later in second place, good enough for a 1 point win.
“Doing well in the AC45 is a lot about high-speed boat racing,” says Draper. “The people who’ve been doing that all their lives have done well. But everybody’s going to improve, and we’re not going to rest on laurels.”
Draper isn’t the only 49er sailor on the crew. Newcomer Xabi Fernandez of Spain, the long-time crew of skipper Iker Martinez (Luna Rossa Swordfish), will man the headsails along with Nick Hutton.
Prediction: Draper’s likely still smarting from losing the August championship, so you can expect some fireworks from him as he attempts to make amends.
Luna Rossa Challenge skipper Max Sirena leads the team’s second entry in the AC World Series, which is helmed by team newcomer Iker Martinez of Spain. Martinez and his long-time crewman Xabi Fernandez (aboard Luna Rossa Piranha) is a two-time Olympic medalist, having won gold (Athens 2004) and silver (Beijing 2008) medals in the high-performance 49er skiff dinghy. The duo also won the 49er Worlds three times and the Europeans twice. Martinez also skippered Team Telefónica to fourth place in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.
Martinez’ dinghy pedigree would seem to serve him well on the AC45. Several skippers in the ACWS fleet, including teammate Chris Draper and Team Korea’s Nathan Outteridge, have all had successful careers in the 49er. Although the 49er is a monohull dinghy with soft sails, the technique required to keep the skiff moving at speed is relatable to the AC45 wingsail catamaran.
Martinez, however, is coming into a pressure-packed situation. Luna Rossa Swordfish hasn’t finished better than mid-fleet at any of the past four regattas. The crew has shown flashes of great speed at times, but also inconsistency. Martinez will be expected to bring more consistent results.
Prediction: Luna Rossa Swordfish placed fifth in the August fleet racing championship, and with a new helmsman the crew will have its work cut out to make a run at the podium.