Team New Zealand have the jump in the America's Cup, writes Duncan Johnstone.
Respected Italian skipper Max Sirena believes Team New Zealand would win the America's Cup if it was raced tomorrow.
And he's not just saying that because the Kiwis are the only syndicate with a boat out on the water right now.
It's a holistic view from Sirena, who has the pleasure of seeing his 72-foot catamaran launched in Auckland tonight under the banner of the Luna Rossa syndicate.
With cup holders Oracle demolishing their AC72 in a capsize during testing in San Francisco last week and Swedish challengers Artemis Racing stalled by damage to their boat while it was being towed in California yesterday, the Kiwis are in the box seat as teams try to get a handle on the radical new design.
Luna Rossa are piggy-backing on the Kiwis, sharing design and technology, and are thrilled by what they have seen from Grant Dalton's outfit who have been sailing their AC72 since late July.
Sirena is adamant Team New Zealand are the team to beat in a competition that has been restricted to just four syndicates because of costs - something his boss Patrizio Bertelli was critical of yesterday.
"I think New Zealand are the strongest team on the water. Maybe, I shouldn't say that. But if we are all going to go out racing tomorrow then they will win the cup easily," said Sirena, who has been involved in America's Cup racing since 2000.
"The crew, the boat, the total package . . . they are really strong . . . strong enough to wash them (their opponents) in the water."
Luna Rossa's boat is a replica of New Zealand's and they will benefit from testing against each other on the Waitemata Harbour. The Italians hope to be out on the water next Wednesday and "line up around a practice race course with New Zealand by the second week of November".
Sirena felt they had a design edge on Oracle, suggesting the American's problems last week lay with the stiffness of the cat's platform.
"We are really happy with the Team New Zealand boat," said Sirena, saying they had "looked closely" at the Kiwis sailing and also Oracle and Artemis "every day" while they waited for their own AC72 to be delivered. Team New Zealand are right on schedule. This was the best move for us and for them."
He felt the Americans may have been guilty of pushing things too far, too soon with their testing of these sensitive cats.
"The America's Cup is a very psychological game. You want to put pressure on the others and the main way to do that is to go out sailing and pushing hard. You want to push and show the other guys you are faster. But you also have to be smarter."
Italy, with a $90m budget, will restrict themselves to one boat but will build another wingsail. New Zealand will soon start the build on their second boat.
Sirena wasn't convinced of the need for a second boat, other than having the luxury of spare parts.
Meanwhile, the costs of competing again came under fire, with Bertelli joining the chorus criticising the design that has been introduced by holders Oracle.
"Whatever solution makes it more affordable for more challengers to participate . . . that is the solution," he said.
"Is that smaller cats or very fast lightweight monohulls? It could have been a very good idea to use the 45s or something similar. That would have encouraged more teams to enter (the actual America's Cup)."
- © Fairfax NZ News