As the sun rises over Jeddah, a new dawn in America’s Cup sailing is breaking with the confirmation that Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli have handed the wheels of their AC40, and the expectation of a nation, to the next generation of foiling superstars.
Ruggero Tita and Marco Gradoni, two of the brightest lights not only of Italian sailing but world sailing too, are the nominated helms for the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta Jeddah, presented by NEOM. It’s a giant step for ‘Rugi’ and Marco into the big league of international sailing but it’s simply no surprise as these two outstanding sailors have been knocking on the door at Luna Rossa since the start of the campaign and the big clue was a dynamic training session in Barcelona ahead of this regatta where the duo were performing pre-start after pre-start practice.
Now their appointment is confirmed, it opens up a whole new dimension in the fleet. The Italians are now the huge unknowns and for the professional sailors in the other teams, they are a dangerous, highly-talented and rare commodity that could well surprise.
Ruggero Tita is the reigning, and almost untouchable, Olympic champion in the foiling Nacra 17 class. For the past three years on the Olympic circuit, he has dominated with a mix of outright skill but more importantly an innate sense on boat positioning and outright foiling speed, able to change gears through the conditions with ease.
Seated in the starboard pod on the AC40, it is safe to assume that ‘Rugi’ will be designated skipper and the one to put the hammer down on the lead back into the crucial start-line. He will be electric to watch in action.
Marco Gradoni, at just 19 years old, has been a sensation in Italian sailing after becoming the only sailor in the world to win three consecutive Optimist World Championships through 2017, 2018 and 2019. In recognition, he was awarded the World Sailor of the Year title in 2019, the youngest ever recipient.
Within Luna Rossa he is highly popular with the team recognising and nurturing his talent, with the senior sailors almost acting as father-figures to this undoubted rising superstar. On the water he is calculating, cool and very fast. In recent testing sessions he has taken the helm of the team’s LEQ12 and even when the senior helms, Francesco Bruni and Jimmy Spithill are onboard, Marco is usually to be found in the ‘joyride’ seat, soaking up and learning everything he can.
Luna Rossa have taken a bold but calculated decision in promoting their youth sailors and the old phrase of ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ may well be proven here on the Red Sea in Jeddah. However, the talent ranged against the young Italians is intense and here we take a look, team by team, at the confirmed crew lists for the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta, presented by NEOM:
Emirates Team New Zealand: No change from the established line up with the Kiwis seeking sailing consistency throughout their campaign, so Peter Burling is skippering the team’s AC40 from the starboard pod alongside co-helm Nathan Outteridge on port. Blair Tuke partners with Nathan on the port side whilst Andy Maloney is sat behind Peter on the starboard side and form a formidable sail trimming team.
INEOS Britannia: Sir Ben Ainslie is the nominated skipper in the starboard pod alongside double Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott on port, but the team have made a significant change in their crew line-up with Iain Jensen, Olympic gold medallist, joining the trim team alongside Bleddyn Mon who is one of the most technically gifted sailors in this America’s Cup cycle.
Alinghi Red Bull Racing: Consistency in crew selection is starting to pay big rewards for the Swiss and there are no changes for Jeddah with Arnaud Psarofaghis skippering from the starboard pod with Maxime Bachelin taking the wheel on port. Bryan Mettraux and the highly experienced, former America’s Cup winner, Yves Detrey are the trim team.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: Olympic gold medallist Ruggero Tita is the nominated skipper in the starboard pod whilst the youthful talent of Marco Gradoni assumes helming duties in the port pod. Vittorio Bissaro on starboard and Umberto Molineris on port, two of the fastest trimmers in the Cup, support the young guns on sail and flight trim, providing plenty of experience.
NYYC American Magic: World Sailor of the Year and Olympic gold medallist Tom Slingsby skippers from the starboard pod for the American team alongside three-time International Moth World Champion and gold medallist Paul Goodison on port. Michael Menninger and Riley Gibbs, the winning trim team from the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova are back for more.
Orient Express Racing Team: Quentin Delapierre, the new darling of French sailing, skippers the French entry from the starboard side joining forces once again with close friend and long-time sailing partner Kevin Peponnet in the port pod. Jason Saunders and Mathieu Vandame, the trimmers who performed so well in Vilanova, are back for Jeddah.
The sailors are ready. The time is now. The America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta, presented by NEOM, is the stunning backdrop for the next chapter on the road to the 37th America’s Cup in Barcelona. Expect fireworks.