America's Cup 2021: Luna Rossa's Jimmy Spithill eyeing trademark comeback against INEOS Team UK

  • 02/02/2021

By Felicity Reid for RNZ 

Former America's Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill has a reputation for never backing down from a challenge and the combative Australian is also fond of a comeback.

The Italians had barely crossed the finish-line in their dominant America's Cup Challenger semi-finals victory over NYYC American Magic, when the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli co-helmsman was lining up a rematch with their next opponent - INEOS Team UK.

"Neither team will be underestimating each other and we'll be putting the hammer down, we want payback from the round-robin series," Spithill says of the challenger finals, which start on February 13.

On Sunday, Luna Rossa took the day off, which was the first time the Italian sailing team's shore crew had downed tools since they arrived in Auckland in October.

The rest day was a reward for comfortably winning the Prada Cup semi-finals 4-0 and ending any possible fairytale finish for American Magic.

But fellow co-helmsman Francesco Bruni said they would be back to work on Monday, because he planned on winning every race against Team UK in the finals series.

Luna Rossa's crew sailed some near-perfect races against the struggling Americans, who limped out of the regatta over the weekend with mechanical issues on their repaired boat.

The Italian entry demonstrated they had learnt some lessons from the earlier defeats - and heard the criticism directed at them by those back home.

The unique co-helmsman set-up on their AC75, with Spithill running the boat on the starboard side and Francesco Bruni on port, copped some flack for a perceived lack of communication between the experienced duo.

Spithill says they are working to overcome their on-board obstacles.

"We've been very very candid and critical, and you have to be to improve and as a unit. I think we've done that well, but we know there's a lot more there, and we have to keep the throttle down and utilise these next days that are coming up."

Luna Rossa and Team UK took different routes to the finals, with the British avoiding the semi-finals by winning the round-robin series, and Spithill is thankful for the additional racing his team had.

"We've been fortunate enough to be racing and I believe we needed that series. I think it was an advantage going through this series, because we are a lot stronger for it.

"Now we get to look forward to that [challenger final] and we've got a lot of stuff we want to do to the boat."

While the British have not been racing, they have been out on the Waitematā Harbour over the past week, testing their boat and any new developments.

But Bruni isn't worried about what was happening across the water in the Team UK boat shed.

"What would I take from the English boat?" he says. "Pretty much nothing, just a good competition, that's all."

The Americans are headed home, but experienced skipper Terry Hutchinson has left the teams still in the race for the 'Auld Mug' with some wise words.

"The America's Cup is a harsh game, but I think it's a game worth fighting for and a game worth trying for. If you never set the bar that far out in front of you, how are you going to know what you can achieve.

"There are some great sailors in the other teams, and you look at what Jimmy and those guys did in 2013, and you see the circle of the America's Cup and how hard it can be to win.

"One of our team members, before coming over here, commented 'if it's this hard, it must be worth it' and I think he's probably right."

The winners of the challenger finals earn the right to face Emirates Team New Zealand in the America's Cup in March.