Luna Rossa Sweeps Semi-Finals Series

It’s the Italians vs. the Kiwis when the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals start Saturday.

Luna Rossa Challenge and Emirates Team New Zealand

Luna Rossa Challenge and Emirates Team New Zealand will face off starting this Saturday in the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals.Courtesy America's Cup

Things were looking downright bleak for skipper Max Sirena and his Luna Rossa Challenge teammates just a few weeks ago. Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) wasn’t exactly kind to their Italian-flagged rivals in the Louis Vuitton Cup (LVC) Round Robin series, sweeping Sirena and company in five straight races. But rather than growing overly discouraged at these setbacks, the Luna Rossa squad instead focused their energy on the recently concluded LVC Semi-Finals, where they met Swedish-flagged Artemis Racing for a best of seven contest that ended quite differently than the Round Robin series.

Some backstory: Artemis Racing suffered a boat-breaking capsize on May 9, resulting in the tragic death of Andrew “Bart” Simpson and setting the already-lagging team considerably astern on their projected development curve. The team hit overdrive in the weeks following Simpson’s death, working around the clock to build their second-generation, fully foiling AC72, which they launched in late July. Unfortunately for Artemis, this last-minute splash date translated into precious little on-the-water time for the sailors to master and develop their second-generation boat. These chronological shortcomings became painfully obvious once the starting guns for the LVC Semi-Finals began sounding.

Nathan Outteridge, Artemis Racing’s young, hyper-talented and aggressive helmsman, delivered a series of solid starting-line performances, winning one start and doing his best to give Chris Draper, Luna Rossa’s helmsman, a tough time. But while Outteridge’s Gold-medal winning skills shut down the 49er class at last summer’s Olympic Games, they weren’t enough to touch Luna Rossa’s straight-line speed, nor could Artemis best the refined efforts of the Italians, specifically through tricky maneuvers such as foil-to-foil gybes. Watch any video footage of the Semi-Finals, and it’s clear that Outteridge and company lost precious racecourse real estate to Sirena and the Italians each time Artemis changed boards.

Not surprisingly, Luna Rossa swept the Semi Final series 4-0, crossing the finishing line with minutes to spare over the Swedish-flagged “Big Blue” in each contest, eliminating Artemis from the LVC. According to reports, Torbjörn Törnqvist, Artemis Racing’s owner, spent north of $100 million for a total of 13 days of AC72 sailing, a staggering sum by anyone’s checkbook. Törnqvist, however, doesn’t see this as the end of Artemis Racing’s America’s Cup quest, although he remains circumspect as to what his next steps may be. “It’s difficult to say what the format will be for the next America’s Cup, but I certainly see this as the first campaign [for Artemis Racing] and not [our] last one,” Törnqvist said. “I think these [AC72] boats are different, controversial in many aspects. Some of the traditional racing perhaps gets lost, its more raw speed, but I think it’s too early to summarize. There are pros and cons, clearly, to this.”

As for Luna Rossa, the team is savoring this hard-won victory, but they are realistic about the fast, well-polished antipodean rival that will be awaiting them on the LVC Finals starting line come this Saturday, August 17. “The team has taken a good few steps forward the past couple of weeks,” Draper reported. “For sure we’ve improved a lot, but we’ve all seen the Kiwis [ETNZ] are very, very solid. We’re going to have to sail incredibly well, and we need to get more performance out of our boat to be competitive with them.”

Whether Luna Rossa can realistically be competitive against the ETNZ steam roller remains to be seen, but fresh controversy has emerged in the strangest of places, namely in the extra (read: illegal) weight that was discovered in the dolphin strikers of three of Oracle Team USA’s AC45s, sans permission from the Measurement Committee. As Cup aficionados will remember, these smaller, non-foiling catamarans were designed as training vessels for the mighty AC72 class yachts and were used to compete in the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS). It’s doubtful if this illegal 5 pounds of weight actually helped the team’s performance (many experts say no); it’s also questionable how far up the team’s totem pole this controversy goes. According to Oracle, these modifications were made without the knowledge or permission of the team’s management or skippers.

As a result of this revelation, Oracle has voluntarily withdrawn (retroactively) from the last four ACWS events, and the International Jury is investigating this rules violation, which could set the Defender afoul of Rule 60 (Protecting the Reputation of the America’s Cup) and Rule 69 (Gross Misconduct), both of which carry serious repercussions. “Our team is very disappointed by this turn of events, and I believe that voluntarily withdrawing from these past AC45 regattas is the appropriate corrective action,” said Russell Coutts, the Oracle Racing’s CEO. “Going forward, we remain focused on our AC72 training in preparation for the upcoming America’s Cup this September.”

In the meantime, all attention now shifts to the LVC Finals. While Sirena and company have suffered greatly at the hands of ETNZ’s skipper Dean Barker and company, it will be interesting to see if Luna Rossa’s additional development time will make the Finals an actual regatta or another landslide. Stay tuned for more on the LVC Finals, as well as additional updates from Oracle Racing’s AC45 measurement infringement.