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America's Cup family stunned at sudden death of Luna Rossa supremo

by America's Cup/Richard Gladwell 12 Jun 19:37 PDT
Francesco Longanesi Cattani in an effusive mood just before presenting the Prada Cup - February 21, 2021 © Richard Gladwell / / nz

The America's Cup family is stunned by the death of Francesco Longanesi Cattani (ITA), the long-serving CEO Representative of COR 36 and Title Sponsor Liaison in the 36th America's Cup, who died suddenly on Friday in the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, after suffering a stroke.

Francesco was joint External Relations Director for Prada. He was the guiding hand in that same function for the Luna Rossa America's Cup team and the 2021 Prada Cup, the Challenger Selection Series for the 36th America's Cup. He also represented Prada in its guise as presenting sponsor for the 36th America's Cup.

Born in Bologna, Italy, in 1952, the sea was in Francesco's DNA from an early age. He came from a famous Italian naval family, and his father, Admiral Luigi Longanesi Cattani, was one of World War II's most prominent Italian submarine commanders.

His father put him on a boat at the age of 5yrs, and since then, saltwater was always in Francesco's life. He studied first at the Morosini Military Naval School in Venice, then the Naval Academy in Livorno. He attained the reserve officer rank in the Italian Navy on board the Amerigo Vespucci and studied law in Bologna.

Francesco was a keen sportsman, notably in motorsports and sailing. He enjoyed a successful career as an international yachtsman, competing in Whitbread Round the World races, the Admirals' Cup and was a member of the Azzurra Italian syndicate in the 1983 America's Cup.

Throughout his life, he covered many high-level professional roles.

Francesco served as Aide-de-camp to Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1983.

He was appointed FISA press delegate in 1988 and worked in Formula 1 for 15 years before joining the Prada Group as External Relations Director. At the beginning of the 90s, he was head of the press office of the FIA in Paris. And in 1992, he had an interlude with Ferrari as Team Manager and Sports Director, in a period of revolution for the team and sport.

Francesco was in charge of communications for Luna Rossa for all campaigns, starting with the 2000 America's Cup. With the absence of Prada's Patrizio Bertelli, due to COVID restrictions, Francesco ran the Challenger of Record's management. He was the co-joint sponsor representative for principal event sponsor Prada in Auckland for the 2021 Prada Cup and America's Cup, presented by Prada.

The last America's Cup and Prada Cup were a delicate balancing act for Francesco, having to be impartial as the Challenger of Record representative and promoting Prada's interests as the sponsor of the events. His excitement level lifted as the events progressed, and Luna Rossa's fortunes improved. One day of the Prada Cup Finals, as we walked from the media centre to the entrance to the Viaduct Harbour to see the teams leave, he turned and said semi-apologetically of his split roles and loyalties: "you have to realise that while I am here for the event, and all of the teams, I am still an Italian and my heart lies with Luna Rossa."

A very cultured man, Francesco could fluently speak five languages and possessed a keen sense of humour and extraordinary enthusiasm for the sport of sailing.

He was delighted with the way Luna Rossa improved during the Prada and America's Cup. And with the score at 3-3 after three days of racing in the America's Cup, he caught an exciting glimpse of an America's Cup victory at the end of 20 years of competition for the Luna Rossa team.

He fought hard for the racing to be resumed as soon as possible (see the media clip below) after the second Lockdown in Auckland mid-way through the Finals of the Prada Cup. Then it appeared as if the restart of the Final could be foreshortened, which could have potentially resulted in Luna Rossa being eliminated.

[Final racing was conducted from February 13-14, stopped due to the NZ Govt imposed Lockdown for five days, and resumed on February 20, with an end date for the Final specified as February 24. Luna Rossa was leading 4-0 ahead of the Lockdown.]

An America's Cup win would have been the pinnacle of Francesco's extended America's Cup involvement. Luna Rossa is the second longest-competing team in the modern America's Cup, and Francesco has been one of the guiding hands at the team's helm since its inception. He leaves a massive pair of shoes to fill for Luna Rossa and Prada if the Italian fashion house continues as presenting rights sponsor for the America's Cup cycle.

Although we crossed swords on occasion, Francesco was always open and honest. However, no one who worked with him would ever be in any doubt as to where his heart lay. Francesco always worked in what he thought was in the best interests of Prada, Luna Rossa and the event - if that was part of his portfolio. Although it only bubbled to the surface occasionally, we had the impression was that Francesco was a hard negotiator behind closed doors. Under his eye, Prada was always immaculately presented, and a much-anticipated part of any America's Cup campaign was always what the Prada and Luna Rossa "look" would be for the upcoming campaign.

From my perspective, we enjoyed a good media relationship - despite Francesco confiscating my cameras ahead of one Luna Rossa launch!

Francesco was always very approachable, despite having a very active schedule, and willing to discuss an issue or incident as honestly as one can in the white-hot context of an America's Cup. While he was 'front of house' for the 2021 America's Cup, he usually adopted a much less visible role - but always worked hard in the background to ensure everything was 'just-so' and met Luna Rossa's high standards.

In his 70th year, Francesco Longanesi Cattani is survived by his wife Cari and his daughter Lavinia.

The America's Cup has lost a true gentleman and the sport a great servant and competitor.


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