Team New Zealand's information-sharing alliance with Luna Rossa gets its first real test this week when the Italians debut in home waters as the America's Cup World Series resumes in Naples.
The Prada-backed giant has a cosy agreement with the Kiwis that has seen them trialling in Auckland this summer as the plans of both syndicates push on for next year's America's Cup extravaganza in San Francisco.
Now attention switches to Naples with Luna Rossa involved for the first time in the 2011-12 series.
Team New Zealand and America's Cup holders Oracle dominated the first three regattas in Portugal, England and the United States over the second half of last year, with the Kiwis holding a one-point lead on the points table as the series starts again.
These regattas are sailed in the smaller 45-foot wing-sail catamarans as opposed to the 72-foot monsters that will be used for the real thing.
Luna Rossa will have two entries in the Naples regatta that starts on Wednesday and features nine boats from seven countries.
Team New Zealand are eager for action and expecting a tougher challenge over the second half of the series – not just because their Italian mates are involved but with other teams having recruited fresh talent since the last regatta in San Diego in November.
"I think it will be tougher than the regattas last year. I think with the light-medium conditions we're expecting, a lot of the teams will be right in the hunt" said Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, adding he believed Luna Rossa would be competitive.
"What we've seen of them so far is that that they've got some very, very good guys. They've got a lot of experience in the Extreme Sailing Series, and come from other competitive backgrounds as well."
Barker said that getting to sail the Luna Rossa AC45 "was great" and there had also been benefits from sailing against the Italians in training. But that was training – this week was about racing.
"It feels like it's been a long time since the last event, so we're just looking forward to getting back on the water," he said.
Barker emphasised that the learning curve on these radical catamarans was enormous and the more racing they could get on them was crucial.
Technical differences to sailing the old single hulls were huge and the costs of mistakes multiplied accordingly.
The next three regattas – Venice and Newport follow Naples – feature a revised points scoring system. Regatta director Iain Murray said the changes had been made after consulting the teams.
"I think we have a strong programme now; each race in the championship events is meaningful for the title races, but every team will now be racing each day, which is also important."
The opening day features seeding races for Saturday's match racing championship. Between Wednesday and Saturday, the teams will compete in 11 fleet races, including one 40-minute contest, to determine the top four finishers, who will advance to the match racing semifinals and finals.
Next Sunday starts with the spectacular speed trial, with teams making two timed runs down a 500m track. This is followed by the fleet race championship involving a 40-minute race.
- Sunday Star Times
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