(Reuters) - Luna Rossa put themselves in a strong position to qualify for the Challenger Series final by taking a 2-0 lead over American Magic in the best-of-seven repechage semi-final at Auckland on Friday.
The Italian team won the first race by two minutes and 43 seconds, and the second by three minutes and seven seconds in breezy conditions at Waitemata Harbour.
American Magic's "Patriot" -- patched up after sustaining damage following a capsize during a round robin race -- struggled in testing conditions.
The winners of the semi-final take on Ben Ainslie's INEOS Team UK to determine who will face defenders Team New Zealand for the America's Cup.
"We're very happy. Difficult conditions today ... we had a skid sideways, lost grip... but we regrouped after that, reacted quickly," Luna Rossa helmsman Francesco Bruni said.
"The last races we did were not up to the standard we wanted so there was a little bit of tension. In the past the boat has not been the fastest in strong winds but we knew we had made some big improvements.
"We had it on the numbers but to see it on the water is a different feeling."
The American team's skipper Terry Hutchinson said they would come out swinging on Saturday, with lighter winds predicted.
"It's all you can really do. We just have to sail better," Hutchinson said.
The Challenger Series ends on Feb. 22 with the winners taking on TNZ from March 6 for the America's Cup.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)