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America's Cup: At the helm of Luna Rossa, but pining for NZ

by Suzanne McFadden, Newsroom.co.nz 7 Feb 11:04 PST
Max Sirena (Luna Rossa) with Emirates Team NZ CEO, Grant Dalton on Dec 10, 2015 when Luna Rossa handed over one of their foiling AC45's to get a very cash-strapped Team New Zealand into the 35th America's Cup. © Richard Gladwell

Massimiliano “Max” Sirena is doing all he can to win the America’s Cup for Italy, after 20 years’ trying.

And yet he longs to live in New Zealand and spend his days off riding motorbikes with his friend and foe, Grant Dalton, as Suzanne McFadden reports.

In Cagliari – the majestic and historic castled capital of Sardinia – Max Sirena has begun to build a new generation of Luna Rossa.

An abandoned cruise ship terminal on Ichnusa Pier that was never used is being refashioned into the base of the Italian challengers for the America’s Cup; a string of offices will be ready next week to house the 45 designers and sailors who make up the team so far.

For the past few weeks, Sirena, the two-time America’s Cup winner, team director and skipper of Luna Rossa, has been trialling promising young sailors, looking for new blood for his 2021 Cup challenge.

Once a week, he phones Miuccia Prada, one of the most influential fashion designers in the world, and fills her in on how the team is doing.

But as much as he has “fallen in love” with this place – especially its crystal clear waters and perfect sailing breeze – and he’s happy in his work preparing the Italians for a serious crack at the Auld Mug, Sirena still pines for Auckland.

He misses the “quality of life” in New Zealand, the friendliness of its people, the ease in which his son could catch a fish, and how he could go riding motorbikes with his close friend, Grant Dalton, on their days off. One day he may live here for good, he says. But most of all he misses the camaraderie and “family” of Emirates Team New Zealand.

Sirena spent 18 months working for the Kiwi team, as technical advisor in their successful acquisition of the America’s Cup last June. He had been pushed to the Cup sidelines when Luna Rossa withdrew their challenge from the 2017 regatta, protesting late changes to the design rules. But Team NZ found a role for him, and he was quickly entrenched in the “team” psyche the New Zealanders are famous for.

Now he is trying to replicate that in Cagliari, and in the team that is beginning to form around him.

“One of the things about Team New Zealand which is hard to understand and see from the outside is how strongly attached people are to this team. It’s like one big family. And I think it’s something that is hard to recreate outside of New Zealand,” Sirena says.

The ‘rock star’ in Team NZ is the whole team. That is hard to understand unless you live it.

“They have strong leadership, but one of their real strengths is that the full team is the leader of the team; everyone is part of the puzzle. The ‘rock star’ in Team NZ is the whole team. That is hard to understand unless you live it.

“Before Luna Rossa pulled out of the last Cup, I think we were in really good shape. The environment we were working in was pretty similar. So now I’m trying to replicate it. And now that the spirit of Team NZ is even stronger, there is even more motivation in this approach. I like the way we are putting together our puzzle so far.”

Sirena is still incredibly close to Team NZ. He speaks to them daily; sees Dalton “once a month or month-and-a-half”. It may sound like unusual behaviour for rival teams to be so buddied-up, but as the official Challenger of Record for the next America’s Cup, Luna Rossa have a significant hand in drawing up the new class of boat for 2021, the AC75.

The final design of the radical new monohull on foils will be released to the world on March 31. Until then, two design teams on different sides of the globe continue daily to hone the fine details. They are close to a first draft, Sirena says.

For the rest of this story goto newsroom.co.nz

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