Luna Rossa 'team to beat' as Naples embraces America's Cup
Oracle skipper Spithill says city is 'stadium of sailing'10 April, 17:56
(ANSA) - Naples, April 10 - Italy's Luna Rossa have been named the team to beat as sailing fever grips Naples, with the southern city's stage of the America's Cup World Series set to get underway on Wednesday.
The Naples leg is the fourth stage of the 2011-2012 AC World Series, a competition organizers of the America's Cup proper have put on in order to generate excitement ahead of the big event in San Francisco next year.
It will be the first time this year that fans will be able to see the series' AC45 catamarans, twin-hub boats similar to those that will take to the water in San Francisco in September 2013, take to the water in anger.
The first three stages took place last year in Cascais, Portugal; Plymouth, England; and San Diego, the United States.
Naples, which has carried out a series of works to host the event including the extension of a breakwater so the yachts can race off the beautiful city seafront with Mt Vesuvius in the background, has embraced the event with relish.
Around a quarter of a million people went to the area of the Race Village on Easter Monday to sample the atmosphere created by the America's Cup, sailing's ultimate prize, after the teams started training at the weekend.
On Sunday around 15,000 braved a thunderstorm and pouring rain to enjoy a spectacular opening ceremony for the AC World Serie stage, which runs until Sunday.
James Spithill, the Australian skipper of America's Cup holders Oracle Racing, is thrilled, describing Naples as the "stadium of sailing".
"Nowhere else in the world do the regattas take place so close to the public on dry land," Spithill told a press conference on Tuesday.
"We can hear the shouting, the encouragement, which is something new and exciting...
"It was exciting yesterday to see the crowds and I think they will be even bigger next weekend. "The Italian fans are the best in the world and they'll make this event fantastic".
Spithill's crew, one of two teams Oracle have in the AC World Series, are one point behind Dean Barker's Emirates Team New Zealand crew on the overall leaderboard.
But the Australian said this week he is most worried about competition from the Prada-backed Luna Rossa team, who are making their AC World Series debut in Naples with two crews after being admitted to the America's Cup as late entries last year.
"We are enthusiastic about starting another America's Cup adventure and it's beautiful to be able to do so in Naples," said Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena, who was part of the Oracle team that beat Switzerland's Alinghi to take the America's Cup back to the United States in 2010.
"We are preparing with great attention. Obviously we are here to win but are also focusing a lot on getting the right mix in the team".
The event will start on Wednesday with three fleet races.
There will also be match races, head-to-heads between two teams, and speed trials during the week. The weather is not forecast to be sunny for Wednesday's start, but there should be plenty of wind and Spithill is expecting "exciting" races. As well as Oracle, New Zealand and Luna Rossa, Sweden's Artemis Racing, China Team, France's Energy Team and Team Korea will also be racing in Naples. Local officials are confident the event will also help show the new face of Naples after its image was tarnished in recent years by a series of trash crises. "This great sporting event will serve to revive the image of Naples, but not to hide the problems that still exist," said Stefano Caldoro, the governor of the Campania region around Naples.
"We'll face these issues in a positive way to revive the image of the city and achieve a new model of development".