The 32nd America's Cup gets underway in Valencia on Saturday as Swiss defender Alinghi faces Team New Zealand for yachting's biggest prize.This content was published on June 22, 2007 - 21:47
The Kiwis will be looking for revenge – four years ago the Swiss defeated them in their own backyard – but Alinghi's crew will want to prove off the Spanish coast that they have what it takes to keep their grip on the Auld Mug.
The Swiss syndicate has been keeping its cards close to its chest ahead of the best-of-nine series: the team announced only on Wednesday which of its yachts would be racing.
By choosing their most recent boat, SUI 100, Alinghi have decided to go with a yacht that is untested in real racing conditions, but it is believed to have the edge in heavy winds over the New Zealanders.
However, the challengers have the advantage of having competed in the recent Louis Vuitton Cup, the winner of whom is designated the official America's Cup challenger. They were particularly impressive against Italian syndicate Luna Rossa in the final, winning five-nil.
It is difficult to say whether tactics will play much of a role in the upcoming races. According to Alinghi's skipper, Brad Butterworth, the America's Cup has always gone to the fastest yacht, and there is no reason to believe it will be any different this year.
The racing zone chosen for the cup and the stable winds off Valencia make any surprises unlikely. The yacht with the best speed, if it can hold off its opponent, will probably get over the line first.
Just who is the fastest is the big question. When the two syndicates faced each other off the Spanish coast a year ago Alinghi was still competing with its "old" SUI 75 and the Kiwis were superior.
Despite losing six of their previous ten races against Team New Zealand, Alinghi are confident they now have a technological advantage.
"This yacht is the result of five years of development by the Alinghi design and sailing team and the product of seven months hard work by our shore crew," said design team coordinator Grant Simmer.
Which of the two yachts will actually be the fastest won't be answered until after the start of the first race. Their designs are very different: Alinghi sports a rounded hull, while Team New Zealand is more of a thin wedge, supposedly more efficient in light winds.
The two crews are expected to use similar tactics during the races, with the New Zealanders bolstering the ranks on both teams.
"This is going to be as good as it's ever been," Butterworth said on Friday. "We're up against a great team that we've sailed against in the past. The best two teams are going at it."
Butterworth added that American Ed Baird would helm SUI 100, making it his fourth America's Cup. Ernesto Bertarelli, the Swiss biotech billionaire bankrolling Alinghi, will also be on board, as he was in 2003.
"There's nothing different to be said, everyone knows what they have to do," Bertarelli said. "There is no more time for speeches – it's time for racing!"
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The inaugural race was held off the Isle of Wight in 1851. America dominated the race right up until 1983 when Australia won the trophy.
In 1995 New Zealand became only the third country to win the competition, successfully defending their title in 2000.
The Swiss syndicate Alinghi sailed to victory against Black Magic in 2003 and became the first European team to win the Auld Mug.
The 2007 America's Cup off the coast of Spain is scheduled to take place from June 23 to July 7 at the latest.
Alinghi's international crew
Bowman: Pieter van Nieuwenhuyzen (Netherlands)
Midbowman: Curtis Blewett (Canada)
Mastman: Francesco Rapetti (Italy)
Pitman: Josh Belsky (United States)
Grinder: Mark McTeigue (Australia)
Grinder: Matt Welling (United States)
Trimmer: Simon Daubney (New Zealand)
Trimmer: Lorenzo Mazza (Italy)
Grinder: Will McCarthy (Australia)
Mainsail: Warwick Fleury (New Zealand)
Strategist: Murray Jones (New Zealand)
Pitman: Dean Phipps (New Zealand)
Grinder: Rodney Ardern (New Zealand)
Navigator: Juan Vila (Spain)
Afterguard: Ernesto Bertarelli (Switzerland)
Tactician: Brad Butterworth (New Zealand)
Helmsman: Ed Baird (United States)