In Pursuit of Excellence – Insights from the America’s Cup challenger series

After demolishing Team INEOS, 7-1 in the Prada Cup Challenger series, Luna Rossa’s James Spithill wasn’t gloating in the victory, he came across humble and focussed.

“No doubt going through real racing, I think we’ve taken a good step forward. But it’s not enough…”

Sharing this short article I came across, to inspire and challenge you with insights from the world’s very best competitors.

Original article published in the New Zealand Herald, 22 February 2021.

America’s Cup 2021: Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill’s surprising claim ahead of Team New Zealand showdown.

Jimmy Spithill admits Luna Rossa have a lot of work to do before being able to compete with Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup match – a daunting task he equates to facing the All Blacks in a Rugby World Cup final.

The Luna Rossa co-helmsman was relatively understated in his celebrations following the Italian syndicate’s 7-1 demolition of Ineos Team UK last Sunday, perhaps looking ahead to his toughest challenge of his America’s Cup campaign in the shape of the defenders Team NZ.

Spithill was pleased with the progress made by his team – from middling challengers early in the Prada Cup round robins to a near sweep in the final – but says they’re still behind the defenders.

“No doubt going through real racing, I think we’ve taken a good step forward. But it’s not enough,” Spithill told NZME. “We’ve really got to utilise this time now between the match to try and bridge that gap. Because those guys (Team NZ), in my mind, are ahead at the moment.

“I think the whole package is very, very good. I think we’ve got a great package at the bottom end for the wind conditions, but we need to improve in the middle and upper end of the ranges.”

To do that, Spithill says he will be enlisting all the help he can get from his friends among the fallen challengers.

“We spoke to the American guys after racing them in the semifinals. I’ll definitely be touching base with Ben [Ainslie] and Giles [Scott]. We’ve got a lot of friends in Ineos Team UK; a lot of guys who worked with Oracle in the last couple of campaigns. We’ll be looking for knowledge and ways to grow stronger from here from amongst all the challengers.”

When asked how he’s going to wind up New Zealanders – like he did when Oracle came from behind to beat Team NZ in 2013 – Spithill laughed it off and simply spoke about the “privilege” of being able to challenge the Kiwis on home soil.

“I think they seem to do a really good job of that themselves,” he said in jest. “I’m just really honoured to get a shot at the best team in the world. To be able to race Team New Zealand on home waters, it’s a lot like a rugby player getting to go on the rugby field against the All Blacks at Eden Park at a Rugby World Cup final. What an incredible privilege that is.”

Spithill also made sure to pay tribute to his co-helmsman and partner in crime Francesco Bruni, who unlike the Australian, showed significantly more emotion after clinching the Prada Cup.

“I’m so proud of ‘Ceco’. What an incredible journey he’s had. I know that Sicilian blood, that energy has just been bubbling there waiting. Man he’s just done an amazing job. An incredible series he’s raced. I was really pumped that we could get it done.”

The two-time America’s Cup winner also praised the unique culture of the team, something he hopes will help them shock the world against the Kiwis next month.

“The Italian culture is really amazing. It’s a really big family type of culture: very passionate, very emotional, a lot of energy and very hard workers.

“One thing we’ve really worked on a lot is composure – just trying to sort of regulate, whether it’s been a good day or a bad day, we’re just trying to learn as much as we can.

“I’ve been so impressed with the team from where we’ve come from. We’ve developed a fantastic culture in the team. It’s something now we’ve got to put in to play over this next week or two.”