No mind games. No verbal jabs. Jimmy Spithill had the blinkers firmly affixed after an intriguing opening day of the America’s Cup match for his Luna Rossa lineup.
Spithill, the aggressive Aussie they call the ‘Pitbull’, co-helmed Luna Rossa to a share of the opening day honours in the best-of-13 finals matchup against the defenders of Team New Zealand.
After being roundly smacked by the Kiwis first up – losing by 31 seconds – it was an impressive response by the Italians second time out as they, crucially, won the pre-start manoeuvres, sailed smartly from in front and then were good enough to hold off the fast-finishing home boat by 7 seconds.
Spithill loved the mental resilience from his crew and the toughness to take the early blows on the chin and then come out swinging in the second race. But he kept his powder dry when it came to any advantage he may or may not have over Peter Burling and co, and any doubt he may or may not have put in their minds.
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“At this level everyone’s mental game is pretty good,” deadpanned Spithill to a question from Stuff at the end of the day. “For us it was a real sign of strength to bounce back after a tough first race. That’s something we’ve been working on for a long time – not getting too wound up whether we win or lose; just focusing on the next race.
“We had put that into play for race two. That was a very, very good effort from the team.”
Spithill felt the seeds were sown for Luna Rossa’s response in the opening race, when they stayed in the game despite making an early mistake or two to concede the initiative to the Kiwis.
“I thought we actually sailed a pretty good race after we got back into it. Onboard there was great composure, the guys fought the whole way, sailed a really good race, damage control, and kept it close.
“And then the ability to bounce back after that. That’s the important thing; the boys regrouped, were composed, went out and won the next race. That’s a good sign of strength for the team.”
Spithill confirmed Thursday would be spent off the water, assessing what had gone on through these first two races, before Friday’s resumption.
“It’s the first time both of us are racing each other in high-pressure stuff. I’m sure we are both going to walk away with a heap learned and hopefully make the boat faster.”
Spithill was later asked if he had a message to the doubters who had written the Italians off before this series. That was when he really brought out the straight bat, ignoring the question altogether, and remarking on the strong support he felt for his team, both on the water in Auckland, and back in Italy.
Co-helmsman Fracresco Bruni, an experienced America’s Cup sailor, was also doing his level best to keep a lid on his emotions with the match so clearly in the balance.
“We are not satisfied. We want more,” he said. “We are very happy with how our day went and the performance of the boat was very good. It was very positive we can have some good races in the future.
“It’s a great feeling … but I have to stay focused on the next race and think race by race. I think we have a great chance. But we can’t waste time on thinking about emotions and stuff. We have to be super focused.”
However he did concede there was some relief following the result second up, and also some hope that this series might not just be all about who wins the start.
“There was a lot of talk about Team New Zealand being 5-8-10 knots faster, and that was clearly not the case today. We are glad we can just race and try to win this,” he said.
“And what’s happened lately, the last 6-8 races, is we’ve sailed in pretty stable breezes – nothing like the south-westerly on C course. That explains why the team leading at the start has beene capitalising.
“But once the breeze is more shifty or patchier we will see more passes.”
Racing resumes Friday. Luna Rossa cannot wait.
Stuff’s Duncan Johnstone and Todd Niall are joined by former cup sailor Carl Whiting for a look at an intriguing day one