Sicilians with violin cases made an appearance at Prada’s America’s Cup yachting party, after perhaps just a little too much Italian red wine had been drunk. They starred in the regatta’s over-active rumour mill with bizarre suggestions AmericaOne’s skipper Paul Cayard actually threw the last race against Luna Rossa of Prada because of some Italian mafia troubles. The truth was much more mundane. Prada’s crew outsailed the Americans, and their boat designers built a faster, more reliable, boat to win the challenger series 5-4.

Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli is very much enjoying the win over his next door neighbours at the Viaduct Basin, who — apart from cranking up their stereos so he could not sleep — had been cranking up the propaganda war suggesting the Europeans would crumple against the might of the United States. Bertelli has kept a very low profile during the challenger finals, but spoke out as soon as the racing was over. “I’d like this to be very clear, because lots of things have been said over the last two years about this,” Bertelli told reporters through an interpreter.

“All of Paul Cayard’s campaign has been playing with the idea that we were the best challenger because we were the richest, we had the most money. “He even went so far as saying in an interview that there wasn’t much talent in the team. I think that was a gross mistake because money is not everything. “You need passion, you need commitment and above all you need a united team.” Bertelli is certainly passionate about his sport, and he loves sailing. He has competed on the European yachting circuit for 25 years, and still races in European vintage 12-metre regattas, sometimes with New Zealand’s famous America’s Cup challenger from 1987 KZ7. Until his work commitments began to dominate, Bertelli tried to spend as much as two months a year sailing.

Now the 53-year-old simply does not have the time to spend on the water. Instead, as chief executive of IPI Spa group, he concentrates on the $US7 billion ($NZ14.22 billion) empire bearing his wife Miuccia Prada’s name. Bertelli and Prada met 12 years ago, when she took legal action against him for manufacturing copies of Prada bags. Now the couple, who have two children, have turned Prada into one of Italy’s leading brand names, and this week Bertelli took the America’s Cup into the homes of three million television viewers. Bertelli, who was persuaded at a dinner party to put his skills to a European campaign, has ensured Prada is pure Italian. The sailing crew are all Italian, except for one, the extremely talented Brazilian tactician Torben Grael. But his skipper, Francesco de Angelis, is a five-time world champion and Admiral’s Cup winner, and he will be the first Italian skipper in an America’s Cup final.

Ironically, the only other Italian syndicate to challenge for the cup had de Angelis’ friend and finals rival in Auckland, Cayard, as skipper. Bertelli said today the experience of being at the America’s Cup had exceeded his expectations. “We are extremely happy to be the challenger for the America’s Cup. It’s been a great experience for all of us. We have had a very warm welcome from the people of New Zealand, and we have received a lot of support. More than we thought,” he said. “The quality of the competitions has been extremely high, and the atmosphere is absolutely fantastic. ”

Bertelli confirmed Prada had the richest campaign chest of a11 challengers for the America’s Cup — $US55 million ($NZ112 million) — but he is clearly annoyed at suggestions money has bought him results. “What we enjoy is this passion. It’s not just about sport, it’s about the human emotions and the feelings of the people who have worked years on this,” he said. “It’s the kind of sport that what really matters is being able to take a loss and to turn that into fuel for your victories. “So we have to build a team that is able to lose and to keep on going.” Bertelli predicts more te