As Team Director and Skipper of the Luna Rossa Challenge, Max Sirena has a lot on his plate these days, looking to ensure the first meeting of the new AC75s at the opening America’s Cup World Series event in Cagliari in April is as productive and smoothly run as possible. At the same time he is trying to minimise the downtime caused by their rig dropping overboard during training on January 27. Tip & Shaft took an early morning cappuccino with Sirena earlier this week.
How do you see the first ACWS event in Cagliari, how important is it when no points are on the table?
We are getting close to the first event. We are close to racing mode in preparation for the first event in two months time and obviously the accident a few weeks ago is making us work harder to be ready for the event. We are taking the opportunity while we are fixing the damage to do some upgrades to the boat. We were planning to do these mods or changes in February but with the problem we now have tried to do everything in one go. It’s the best way to save time.
But how important is it when no Cup points are on the table?
There is a value on the table because though it’s not the end points value result which is the value of those events in terms of the America’s Cup. The biggest value for us obviously and for all the teams is to see where we are, in preparation for the Prada Cup. That is going to start in just one year’s time from now. It will be the first time that we will be racing against each other, so I think it’s a really big and important moment of the campaign for the four teams involved and I think everyone is looking forward to racing together.
What have you learned about the other teams in terms of their design strengths, weaknesses and most importantly their evolution…and do you learn more from seeing INEOS on the water there than ‘virtual’ evaluation?
Obviously, the thing is that though us and Team New Zealand are kind of in the same family of boats otherwise there is obviously a big difference anyway between all four boats. It’s interesting. Actually I do not remember when it happened in the same modern era of the America’s Cup design, to see such very different boats especially in the hull shape. We obviously are following all the teams pretty closely, we have people in the US and in New Zealand and obviously we have people here following the Brits. I think it’s harder to judge performance. You can have an idea but the main focus for us when we are going to be watching or lets say ‘spying’ on the other teams is what the strategy and philosophy they chose in their sail design, hull shape, system, wing design and the way they sail the boat. When you are going so fast, with this boat you are sailing so fast it’s really really hard to measure speed and things like the true wind angles and stuff like that. These would be the most ideal information you would want to have. But it’s almost impossible to check that from a RIB watching the boat.
So what do you see as the relative strengths of the teams?
I think to be honest the strongest team is Team New Zealand for two reasons. One because they are a good Defender, even when we’ve been together in the class rules for this yacht for sure they were very clear in their minds with an idea for the boat before we even started to put together the class rules. So for sure there’s an edge for them. The Americans are doing very well, again I don’t know in terms of pure performance but the boat end is really good, so they are doing a really good job in boat handling. And the English have also had a really good step forward in terms of sailing and boat handling as well. I think there is no experience with this boat, there is no reference from the past so it’s a really big unknown in terms of how they are going to perform once we put the four boats in the same space of water.
Have you learned any more about Team INEOS, the Brits from having them in Cagliari?
Well no really because we always sail apart, apart from one time where we were close enough to eventually make some conclusion, but we were still 500 meters away from them. For sure it’s easier because we don’t have to fly overseas to follow them, it’s just a matter of going out the chase boat and watch them. So, in reality not yet, I think once all the other teams are here in March we will have a better idea of where we are.
How are you evaluating and developing performances on board at the moment, who is likely to drive in Cagliari between Francesco Bruni and Jimmy Spithill for example?
At the moment, both guys Jimmy and Cecco (Bruni) are steering the boat, they are both onboard every day. I think it’s still too early to make any conclusions on who’s going to be on the helm and who’s going to be doing tactics. At the moment we are working on the boat to make sure the boat is fast as possible on the race track. I will make this decision further along in the year a couple months before starting the Prada Cup.
But it is likely they will both be on board and swap roles?
Yeah, I think it’s a good problem to have because both of them will be on board anyway. In all the key roles we are trying to make sure there is good back up so during the training sessions every day when we are going out sailing we have a few rostered and reserve like for mainsheet trimmer and rostered is the grinders because it is really demanding from a physical point of view. More or less we have a backup for all the roles on board and I think it’s really important because you cannot just run the boat with three guys because if one of them gets sick then you are in trouble. Also, in terms of the level of the sailing team it’s really important that the whole group is growing together.
What is the most difficult aspect of racing these boats going to be, pure speed, on the corners or what are you thinking?
I think that what the pure boat speed is on a straight line will be the winning point. I think especially in the beginning, what is going to really make the difference will probably be the transitions, take off, tacking and gybing. So then if the boat can lose less going into transition then we can win the race. Especially in the beginning, like in Cagliari or Portsmouth. Then maybe later on during the Prada Cup once more or less the boat will be able to manoeuvre on the same way, on the same level then boat speed will eventually make the difference. I think we are running in a ‘cone zone’ and everyone will be more or less pretty similar in terms of foil design at the end. Everyone now is starting with a different pattern and a different concept but I’m pretty sure in the second boat and with the first set of proper racing I would be surprised if there was someone who was completely out of the box from the rest of the fleet.
So your second boat will be quite similar to the first?
The boat I don’t know yet but I’m talking more about the wing and foil arm and rudders and so on because at the end the tools we use are pretty similar, the ones we are using a lot for wing and foils, so we are expecting to see a similarity there.
What are you looking forwards to seeing in terms of technique development on the race course?
I think we need to see the pre start. Everyone is doing their own thing and are using the chase boat to recreate the circling boats or stuff like that. I think there is still a lot unknown on the pre start because the first time in a while we are going to start upwind again so I think we need to see how much you can really do in terms of prestart. I’m pretty sure if you are able to have one of boats going off the foil there is a great shot at being the race winner. I think somehow, we are going to see again like a lee bow or a type or a tight to leeward pre start type of starting.
So we are talking ‘proper’ match racing?
Yeah, because at the end there is a big gain, if you are able to, for instance, start to leeward and stop the windward boat getting up on the foil. To get up on the foil you need to bear off a little bit and if you are locked to leeward then obviously you are going to take off later than the leeward boats.
And dropping the mast, do you know what happened and what is the damage?
We know what happened, luckily the mast didn’t have any serious damage. It’s mainly the boat which is the one that is more damaged by the accident. Again, we’ve been super lucky because firstly no one got injured but mainly we didn’t break the mast and there is a little damage in a few spots, but everything is fixable, so we are going to be back in the water very soon.
What are your thoughts about the relatively low number of teams attracted to compete?
I think when we started to discuss about the class a few years ago we considered the fact that if we were going to chose it, the super complex boat that it is the AC75 we may have not very many teams involved. I think the main reason is why the new class doesn’t attract many teams. I think the boat is probably one of the of the most exciting boats I’ve ever sailed in my life, more than the AC72 or the AC50. There is nothing like that in word now. It’s super cool and exciting boat and I think the racing is going to be really good to watch. I think people were just scared to start the campaign with such a complex type of boat and mainly because it’s really hard to find people, mainly a design team with enough skill or experience with those type of foiling boats. The main issue was that. But I’m expecting for the next cycle of the Cup after seeing the boat I will expect to see more teams involved.
What is the level of interest like in Italy?
So far from my immediate point of view there is a lot of coverage especially in Italy, there is a lot of people interested in the team and there is a lot of expectation on the event in Cagliari. We expect to have the town fully booked and there will be 1000’s of people coming down to watch the race. I think for the first time probably there’s a step forward in terms of communication as we try to use as much as possible social media and web channels to put the team out there and available for everyone to see, not just what we are doing but our life and what is going to happen next. I think there is a lot of expectation, we have big brands on our boat, Prada, Pirelli, Panerai, Wool Mark all of those are from a little bit outside the sailing world and this morning we received the newsletter from the Prada journal and on the first page of the Prada journal there is our picture. I think we need that if we want to make sailing more vocal and expand the sport we need to start playing outside of our little world.
And, so far, what has the journey been like for you leading this team?
It’s a learning curve, everyday I’m learning something new because I’m not a born sailor rockstar like some of the names on the other teams. I’m just trying to work as hard as possible every day and trying to ask for 100% from each team member in all the departments and make sure that everyone has the same attachment that I have to the team and to the names we have in our crew team. Also, to understand the opportunity we have, we are doing what we love to do and it’s a good opportunity for us and we are trying to make our dream a reality. My dream is to win the Cup for Italy and I will try to do whatever I can to achieve that and I think it’s growing every day in the team members as well. We have a lot of people coming from the sailing world but who are new to the America’s Cup and I’m starting to see them all become addicted because at the end you are addicted to the Cup. You leave by doing the America’s Cup but again we want to try to make the dream a reality.
Photo : Carlo Borlenghi / Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team
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