Luna Rossa comes out to race as the International Jury uphold their protest

I’m not sure which piece of news I was most surprised by, the fact that Luna Rossa was going to race after declining to turn up to their opening match against the Kiwis on Sunday, or that the protest by the same teams over a rule change to the rudders in the 37 recommendations had been upheld by the international jury.

What was clear was that the two issues were linked. Luna Rossa had said that it could not compete in the opening stages of the Louis Vuitton challenger series while their protest was outstanding. (The Kiwis took a different view and raced alone). But on Thursday morning the jury presented its decision in which it upheld the protests by the challenging teams and agreed that the proposed changes to the design of the boats could not be made solely by the regatta director.

Luna Rossa had said earlier that if the ruling went against their protest then they would consider withdrawing, while the regatta director Ian Murray had said that he would consider cancelling the event if his recommendations were not accepted. Just a few days into the event and the Cup had reached one of its familiar stand offs.

So as the news of the Jury’s decision was announced, the Italians confirmed that they would turn up to their race, their second in the series, in which they would face Artemis. Except the Swedish team wouldn’t be there as they are still preparing their boat. (According to Nathan Outteridge who was a guest commentator on the live race coverage, the team hopes to have boat two in the water in around 10 days for its first sailing trials.)

So once again, the racing in the Louis Vuitton Round Robin was a one sided affair with Luna Rossa going through the motions on a course that was shortened to just one full lap. Having said that, their parade was as revealing as the Kiwi’s of the last two days.

For starters there’s clearly no missing the Italian boat and team that actually has four Brits among its ten crew including helmsman Chris Draper, Finn sailor Giles Scott, David Carr and Nick Hutton. The glistening silver hulls of their AC72 is matched by their silver, sculptured, body armour and sailing kit that wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Star Wars. Shiny silver robots on a shiny silver boat.

Their performance around the 12 nautical mile course was interesting. Faced with less breeze, (around 13knots but with gusts), than the Kiwis had had two days before, Draper and his crew looked far less polished in the opening stages of the race, particularly downwind. On the first gybe the silver dream racer looked on the edge as her windward hull lifted high, the leeward bow went down as the whole outfit started to get out of shape going into the manoeuvre. Seconds later Draper aborted the gybe, bringing the bows up to settle her down before completing the manoeuvre successfully. Had they been under pressure from a competitor they could easily have been forced over the electronic boundary or worse still, into a dodgy gybe.

Nevertheless, their later gybes improved as they settled down, but their jittery style was a reminder that boat handling rather than raw speed is likely to be the most influential factor in the 34th America’s Cup.

What we couldn’t see were issues aboard the boat that were causing concern.

“We had a small issue with the daggerboard system on the right,” said skipper Max Sirena. “A $1 piece could’ve compromised the race, but at the end we managed the breakdown. The little breakdown could’ve compromised a foiling jibe or even some tacks, but the goal was to finish the race and I’m pretty happy about that.”

(Interestingly the Kiwis also admitted to a similar breakdown just before their second race.)

Upwind the Italians’ tacks were proficient but looked slower than their Kiwi counterparts, yet once up to speed they showed a similar pace at around 20knots uphill and 35knots downwind.

Luna Rossa completed the 12.07-nautical-mile course in 28 minutes, 58 seconds, maintaining an average speed of 24 knots and reaching a top speed of 34.2 knots.

So now the Italians are back in the game, Saturday promises to be a fascinating day in San Francisco as the Kiwis and Italians go head to head in race four of the LV Round Robin. Given the dockside chatter that the Italians have been considerably slower than the Kiwis in training, it will be interesting to see for ourselves. I spoke to Sirena a few weeks ago, just as the rumours of the difference in pace were doing the rounds, but also just as the Italians were receiving their latest set of dagger boards.

“The speed difference with different dagger boards is incredible,” he told me. “You can easily gain 4 knots just with a different type of foil.”

The team has been busy over recent months, changing and refining the configuration of its boat which includes a new wing, new rudders and a revised deck layout, so their performance could well have taken a hike. But their crew work will need to step up to that of the Kiwis if they are to succeed on Saturday.

So as the battle on the water starts for real, we can only hope that the one ashore has died down – but then this is the America’s Cup, where surprises are all part of the game.