Luna Rossa, Prada challenge accepted

Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge and fashion house Prada are back in the America's Cup.

The Italians announced Wednesday that their challenge for the 2013 America's Cup has been accepted by Golden Gate Yacht Club. The late challenge comes as the other teams are preparing for the third stop on the America's Cup World Series, starting next week in San Diego. The Italians aren't expected to start competing until next year.

With the addition of the Italians, there are eight foreign challengers for the Auld Mug, which will be defended in 2013 on San Francisco Bay by Oracle Racing.

The challenge is headed by Patrizio Bertelli, Prada's chief executive officer. Prada is providing $55.2 million (40 million euros) in sponsorship. Luna Rossa's backing yacht club is the Circolo della Vela Sicilia of Palermo.

Luna Rossa -- which means red moon -- and Emirates Team New Zealand have signed a cooperation agreement that runs through Dec. 31, 2012, and includes full access to all of the Kiwis' design and performance data. The hulls for Luna Rossa's 72-foot catamaran will be built in Italy and all other elements will be built in New Zealand in cooperation with Team New Zealand.

Luna Rossa brought both style and good sailing to the 2000 America's Cup in Auckland, New Zealand. The Italians reached the America's Cup match before being swept in five races by Team New Zealand.

Luna Rossa will open a base in Auckland for joint training and boat development with the Kiwis.

"I am certain that the cooperation of Luna Rossa with Emirates Team New Zealand will produce excellent results, giving to both teams a faster and more effective development both in the technical and in the sporting fields," Bertelli said in a statement. "The choice of the Circolo della Vela Sicilia as challenging yacht club is also significant: I think it is important, in a moment like this, to underline the unity of our country also in the field of culture and sports."

Matteo de Nora, the team principal of Team New Zealand, said the Kiwis "look forward to close cooperation on land and intense rivalry on the water."

Craig Thompson, CEO of America's Cup Event Authority, said there has been plenty of talk from teams and sailors about the advantage that Oracle Racing has had in organizing the next Cup, "with their technology and level of sailors and everything. I think this really adds a new competitive ingredient to the America's Cup.

"Having a real blue-chip team coming in and its partnership with Team New Zealand, it's obvious that they're trying to get up to speed quicker. The more strong teams we have, the better, and if this puts pressure on Oracle, you know what, that's the nature of sport. Bring it on."

Oracle Racing, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, has been sailing two boats in the AC World Series.

Bertelli established Luna Rossa in 1997 under the name Prada Challenge for the America's Cup 2000. Luna Rossa also participated in 2003 and 2007. In 2007, the Italians reached the Louis Vuitton Cup final for challengers before losing 5-0 to Team New Zealand. The Kiwis then were defeated 5-2 in the America's Cup match by Alinghi.

Luna Rossa is currently leading the standings in the Extreme Sailing Series for 40-foot catamarans.

Team New Zealand won the America's Cup in 1995 and 2000 before losing it in 2003 to Alinghi of Switzerland.

Team New Zealand leads the America's Cup World Series, which is being contested around the globe in wing-sailed, 45-foot catamarans. The ACWS will include regattas in Naples and Venice next spring and return to Naples in 2013. The 2013 Louis Vuitton Cup and America's Cup match will be sailed in 72-foot cats.