By Nick Mulvenney
(Reuters) - Team New Zealand skipper Peter Burling believes his boat has the edge in speed over America's Cup challengers Luna Rossa in "a lot of conditions" but conceded on Tuesday that he would not be certain of that advantage until the racing started.
After a four-day delay caused by a coronavirus lockdown in Auckland, the 36th contest for the oldest trophy in international sport finally gets underway in Auckland on Wednesday with the first two races in the best-of-13 match.
Burling, who will lead the defence of the "Auld Mug" that he helped Team New Zealand win in Bermuda four years ago, said he thought the contest would "come down to that speed question".
"That's the great unknown, right?" the Olympic champion told a news conference.
"We're really happy with how our boat's going but until we actually get to race that first race, we don't know 100%.
"I definitely think there's a lot of conditions where we do have a faster boat but there's a lot of conditions where Luna Rossa has proved to be strong."
One of the areas where the Italian challengers were perceived to have an edge was in light winds and Burling said Team New Zealand had made "some pretty big strides forward" in that department since they last raced in December.
"I really think that's an area we've improved on in the last couple of months, it's been a pretty good area of development for us," he added.
While Team New Zealand have been limited to training this year, Luna Rossa have been race-hardened in the challenger series which earned them the right to have a crack at the title.
Skipper Max Sirena has been racing against Team New Zealand since he was a mid bowman on the Prada Challenge in the 30th America's Cup in Auckland in 2000 but has never beaten them.
The Italian, though, said he felt "more confident" than he ever had that the challengers would be able to turn the tables this time.
"We've got nothing to lose, we can only win," the Italian said.
"We race against the defender, we race against a team which has proved to be one of the best in the world for the last 35 years.
"We know they're going to be fast, we know they're going to be hard to beat, but this is sport."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Pritha Sarkar)