Spithill: “No matter how good the jockeys are, you need a fast horse”

In a new interview, two-time America’s Cup-winning skipper Jimmy Spithill reveals his mindset just 48 hours before taking on defenders Emirates Team New Zealand to open the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland. 

Read the full interview here

Auckland (NEW ZEALAND) – Jimmy Spithill and his new team Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli are on the verge of their first race in the 36th America’s Cup; and almost as if four years of preparation and four recent weeks of grueling competition never happened, it’s all about the here and now. As Spithill – whose role is co-helm for the Italian boat – declares in an all-new interview, from this point onward, “the next race is the only thing that matters.”

The always-candid Australian doesn’t pull any punches when he admits that his underdog team will have their work cut out for them against the powerhouse Kiwis on their home waters. But as a man who pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history to deny New Zealand the Auld Mug in 2013, there’s no question that Spithill thrives on challenge. And he’s not shy about pointing out what the greatest challenges will be for the rivals on Waitematā Harbour.

While respecting the starry field of battle-tested sailors across both boats – names like his Luna Rossa co-helm Francesco Bruni and, for the Kiwis, Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and Glenn Ashby – Spithill believes that boat speed will be the biggest factor in this America’s Cup. He reasons, “No matter how good the jockeys are, you need a fast horse.”

In the course of the interview Spithill also explains why “weather will be everything.” And he gets uncharacteristically emotional in describing what it’s like to wake up every day knowing that he’ll be at the helm for a record fourth consecutive America’s Cup campaign – as well as what it feels like on the boat in the high-tension moments before a race starts.

The 36th America’s Cup is scheduled to begin in Auckland, New Zealand, on March 10, 2021.

Jimmy Spithill on imminent America’s Cup: “No matter how good the jockeys are, you need a fast horse”

Sailing legend Jimmy Spithill pulls no punches in this interview just 48 hours before he helms Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in the America’s Cup opener against Emirates Team New Zealand. Dubbed “The Pitbull” by opponents, the two-time America’s Cup-winning skipper speaks about potential make-or-break factors, why he’s not sure who be top dog this time and what it will feel like to sail toward the start line.

Jimmy, let’s get right to it. Do you think it’s going to be a neck-and-neck match series?
That’s what’s intriguing: We don’t know. In the America’s Cup World Series [December 2020], the New Zealanders showed that they have a very strong package. In the months since then, they were able to make a lot of their design, engineering and development decisions later because they don’t race until the America’s Cup match. However, as challengers we went through the Prada Cup round robins, semi-finals and finals. That’s real high-pressure racing where you play sudden death and the losers go home, and there’s nothing like battle-hardened racing.

So, for us it’s great to be going into the match, but now the work starts. The main event.

Is there any one factor that could make all the difference?
In my experience, it’s a multitude of things. But I believe the boat speed is going to be the biggest factor in this America’s Cup, as it’s always been.

How much does the human element come into play?
The sailors play a huge role. The boats are incredibly physical, and you have to be a few steps ahead, trying to get off the start line well, making good decisions, racing well. But again, the boat speed is fundamental. No matter how good the jockeys are, you need a fast horse.

The jockeys in this America’s Cup seem well matched – there’s a lot of starpower on both boats.
Both teams are pretty experienced. For example, Glenn Ashby and I go way back – he was our coach in 2010 when we won our first America’s Cup with Oracle, and ever since he’s been with New Zealand. Both teams are well stacked in terms of personnel, on and off the water.

And what about conditions?
Weather will be everything. In New Zealand, sometimes in one single day you can get all the seasons at once! I think the boats will each have their sweet spots, and if a boat has an advantage in some conditions, we’ll have to see if the sailors can overcome that or if the boat runs away with it. It’ll be fascinating.

You won two consecutive America’s Cup campaigns before losing to New Zealand in Bermuda four years ago. How much do you want to win this?
Competitively, in anything you enter, you want to win. You want to get out there and have a great fight on the water. But there’s no doubt in my mind that for this America’s Cup match, we are the underdog. Team New Zealand haven’t just done an incredible job in terms of their boat and assembling talent – they are the defender for a reason, and they are at home.

So what’s your team’s mindset?
Whether it’s been a tough day or a good day, just be very consistent and composed. Take the lessons and focus 100% of the time and energy on the next race. The next race is the only thing that matters.

How big is it personally for you to have made it to this match?
For me, this campaign has been one of the toughest, if not the toughest. It’s been such a big change for me, coming to a completely different group, a totally new concept for the boat, living where it’s non-English speaking – a bunch of reasons made it challenging but also extremely rewarding. While it’s been a relentless campaign for the whole team, the sign of strength is the ability to bounce back and learn.

How are you going to feel in the moments before that first start against the Kiwis?
With every race it’s really exciting. One of the main reasons you do it is that mixture of emotions, adrenaline, anxiety, a bit of nervousness. That minute or two just before you enter that pre-start box and engage with the other team, and you’re all on the boat ready to go… It’s an incredible feeling and very, very addictive.

And ultimately…?
Both teams have got a shot. We may be the underdog, but that’s the great thing about sport. The favorite doesn’t always win. Luna Rossa is a culture of people who are never satisfied, who come to work each day wanting to do more. So it’s an exciting time. As you approach the America’s Cup match, it’s an awesome feeling to wake up every day with that motivation of realizing how fortunate you are. Especially today, with what the world has experienced, to be in a competitive team, getting a shot against the best in the world – it’s what you live for.

New “Beyond the Ordinary” podcast episode featuring Jimmy Spithill will be released on Tuesday, March 9. win.gs/JimmySpithillPodcast

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