Sirena and Coutts
The America’s Cup has always been famed for grudges between the key protagonists. This is sailing’s premiere event after all; the stakes are high, professional reputations are on the line, and personal rivalries can easily become inflamed under the glare of the media spotlight.
The 34th America’s Cup has had its fair share of this sort of thing already, and none more so than the obvious friction between Oracle Team USA CEO Russell Coutts and Italian Max Sirena, skipper of the Luna Rossa syndicate.
The pair clashed early on in San Francisco over Sirena’s decision not to race in the opening Louis Vuitton Cup round robin match against Emirates Team New Zealand until the international jury had ruled on his team’s protest about two of the safety rule changes.
Sirena told the media then he was doing this on principal to protect the integrity of the America’s Cup and in particular the AC72 class rule, which he intimated was being changed to favor Coutts’ campaign.
Despite taking flak from America’s Cup organizers and the assembled media, a belligerent Sirena stuck to his guns while the Kiwis—who had also protested the rule changes—raced around the course alone.
Coutts, who is largely responsible for masterminding the new format of grandstand racing for this edition of the Cup—had already been disparaging about Luna Rossa’s chances of progressing past the round robin. Now the Italian squad’s stance had made him furious, and he marched into the America’s Cup media center shortly after to say so.
“Their behavior is just a disgrace,” Coutts said flatly when I asked him to comment. “That’s not the way to behave. They need to stop all this rubbish and get out there and sail.”
But he wasn’t done there and had readied one final insult before turning on his heel and walking out.
“They are acting like a bunch of babies,” he spat. “A bunch of spoilt rich kids dressed in Prada gear.”
Starved of any racing to write about, that quote was gleefully picked up by the media and echoed around the world for the next several days.
Sirena had little to say in response, but it came as no surprise to anyone that when the story broke that Coutts’ team had made illegal modifications to their AC45s during the America’s Cup World Series, Sirena did not hold back.
Asked at a press conference if he thought Oracle had cheated, he answered yes without hesitation.
“For sure,” he said. “I mean it’s pretty obvious what they’ve done, which is pretty bad for our sport. I think it was really un-respectful for all of us, for all of the competitors.”
Ramming the point home Sirena also said that he would love to have the chance to beat Oracle and “bring the Cup back to the real world.”
Eliminated from the competition this weekend after Luna Rossa went down seven races to one against Emirates Team New Zealand, Sirena has now thrown his support behind the Kiwis with an offer to act as their stalking horse for some much needed two-boat tuning to help them topple Oracle in September.
What makes all of this malcontent more surprising is that Coutts and Sirena used to play nicely together; they were teammates at BMW Oracle Racing for the last Cup. Back then Coutts trusted Sirena to be in charge of the Oracle trimaran’s massive wing sail. But, common belief of the Italian media, is that Sirena was miffed when Coutts left him hanging when Oracle put their defense team together.