Luna Rossa is counting down its last days of training and preparation in Auckland, New Zealand, where the team has been steadily making up time as latecomers to the game. In a few weeks the sailing team heads to Naples for the grand finale of the 2012-’13 America’s Cup World Series, while much of the shore team will begin to set up shop in San Francisco. Team manager Max Sirena plans to have his team sailing on San Francisco Bay by the beginning of May. The 41-year old has his work cut out for him managing a relatively novice team, however he says it’s way less stressful than his job managing the wing program on the monster trimaran in his last campaign with Oracle Racing.
Luna Rossa has been very quiet lately.
This is how we like to work—we don’t like to show too much, we’re not the kind of team who likes to go in the press every week like all the other teams are doing. I prefer to work really low profile and take all the distractions away from the team. We are a young team, we start almost a half year after the other guys so we’ve been really focused on what we are doing, which is really hard. I want to focus on the job.
**How many training days have you had now?
**We sailed 26 days inside of January 30, then we sailed after that 14 days, so we have about 40 days on the 72, about 4 or 5 days behind Team New Zealand who is the team with the most sailing days in their pockets.
Have you been doing much sailing with ETNZ?
We’ve been doing some practice racing with them, and it was really positive because for the first time we’ve seen the two 72s doing a real match race start and what the 72 can do in the pre-starts. It is very different to go around the course in the middle of the ocean with no limitations and especially without any other boat interfering in your course. Every day we are more and more surprised at what you can do with these boats.
**What’s working and what’s not in the pre-starts?
**Everything is obviously related to wind speed. As soon as you go in a higher range over 18, everything is more difficult to do because the boat is way more loaded and is powerful. For example, it’s really difficult to do a double tack in a short amount of time, or a double jibe. But so far we are surprised that you can almost do everything, but again it’s all related to the wind speed.
**Are you prepared for the summer sailing conditions in San Francisco?
**We’ve been lucky as since January we’ve had a lot of windy days in Auckland, over 16 knots for a big percentage of our sailing days and over 18 for most of the last few sailing days, with a day of 20-25 knots. We have tried to push the limit higher and higher every time we get a chance, but again there is still a lot to learn in the higher wind range so we want to take that carefully.
Do you worry about capsizing?
The problem with these boats is that they’re really powerful. Over 22 knots it is a completely different way to sail with these boats—you have to pay attention and respect that. When it’s getting really windy, we always make the call and say together, “Let’s respect the better way,” which is the most critical moment when you sail in big breeze with this boat because you always hope that the bow doesn’t stick down. We had a couple of nose-dives the other day, and I can tell you its pretty scary.
Luna Rossa has a lot of new young guys—how are they managing the 72?
One thing about young guys is that they really fight—they’re fighting every day to become better and better on the water. From a boathandling point of view, I’m happy with them, they’re doing a really good job on the water. They are always asking for more which is one of the first times in my sailing experience where I have a sailing team who wants to spend more and more time on the water. They never tire of it, which is a good problem to have. Old sailors like me, after three hours sometimes we’re ready to go back in, right? We’re still on the learning curve, and we want to arrive in San Francisco as prepared as possible, but we all realize the learning process will continue with the Louis Vuitton Cup. But it’s always like that when there’s a new class in the America’s Cup.
Chris (Draper) is up against some tough helmsmen—how do you think he’s performing relative to them?
I think it’s enough to look at the performance in the 45s. Naples was our first event, and we finished second in the match race, so I personally think Chris has shown his talent and kicked a lot of guys’ asses last year. I expect him to do the same this year. I’m really proud of him. He’s a great sailor and very focused on what he’s doing. He’ll drive 99% of the pre-starts with Francesco Bruni as tactician. Francesco will act as back-up helmsman, as we want to keep the option open to have him eventually also sail pre-starts.
What’s been the key to getting Luna Ross where it is so quickly?
The main plus for us is having Patrizio Bertelli behind us—the budget he gave me has given me the chance to put together a very strong team. I’ve been able to select the people I want in the sailing, design, and shore teams. The only way to start a year and half later compared to the top teams is to start with young people because they really want the opportunity, as I said before, they want to fight. It’s how I felt when I did my first America’s Cup—I was doing everything I could to do my best to get into this sport. Our way to work is to spend time in the water, which in the end is what it’s all about.
**What have you learned from ETNZ?
**As a team we look a lot at how they work, and we try to learn as a team to use the time we have here as best as possible. In the America’s Cup you can have all the money in the world but the only thing you can’t buy is the time. For us it was really important to make a realistic plan for the team to be able to achieve what we thought was a priority for us—you can develop a campaign in different stages—one is to put together a team and figure out if it is a good team before moving to the performance/development of the boat. Then you move to the racing, which we have started to do now.
**What is the difference between the boats?
**Our boat 1 is very similar to their boat 1, but on boat 2 we made some changes—our wing is different, and the foils are completely different. Even the foil we will have when we arrive in San Francisco in May will be completely different to what they have. In the end, everyone is tuning their boat as they want. At the moment we’re not on the same level as ETNZ because we have planned our activities a little different to them. We’ll be about 80% of their boatspeed when we start to sail again in San Francisco when we’ll have the full package, and there’ll be another 20% of the development during the LV Cup.
**How is this campaign different for you personally?
**As a general manager I’m not a big name like Russell Coutts or Paul Cayard. I’ve grown my role from inside of the team so for me it’s always a learning process. I always tell the team, “I need feedback from you guys, and if you have a comment how I can improve the way I work, let me know.” It’s not a one-man show, and I think so far I’m pretty happy with the work I’ve done. But I think to judge really, we have to wait until the end of the Cup and I’ll ask the guys again.
**Are you having fun?
**Really fun, especially compared to the last campaign I did with Oracle where I was stressing because I was responsible for the wing. This time, probably because I’m making the decisions, I enjoy way more the role I have—even managing a team of 85 people. The relationship between myself and Mr. Bertelli is great, and it’s easy for me to relate to him. Sometimes even if we have a bit of a fight, it’s just part of the deal.
Click here to find more interviews with key players in the America’s Cup from Michelle Slade.