The first team to win five points will be acclaimed winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup and best challenger and advance to the 32nd America's Cup Match.
It has been a long journey. These teams first met in Valencia Louis Vuitton Acts 2 and 3 in October 2004. They split those two matches, providing an early indication the teams were evenly matched. The following year, Emirates Team New Zealand won all three contests between the teams. But since then, the squads have split four matches.
Each has faced off against the best competition the challenger fleet could offer. Following the two Round Robins, Emirates Team New Zealand was the top challenger, with 17 wins. Luna Rossa was three points adrift with 16 wins from 20 starts.
But the Italians dominated their American Semi Final opponent, 5-1. In fact, Luna Rossa Challenge led at every turning mark against BMW ORACLE Racing. The Kiwis elected to race Desafío Español 2007, eventually dispatching the stubborn Spaniards 5-2.
Five more wins remain for each team before it can become the Challenger and fight Alinghi for the America's Cup. Who will get on the scoreboard first today?
Looking at head to head statistics between the teams, it appears the key is going to be getting a good start. In three of the four races between these teams dating back to last year's Louis Vuitton Act 10, the team leading at the windward mark has won three of four times.
Perhaps more significantly, the team entering the start box on starboard tack has won all four contests. On Thursday, Luna Rossa Challenge won a coin toss and elected to enter on starboard for the first match. The teams alternate from then onwards.
'I'm glad I won the coin toss now!' said Luna Rossa's Andy HORTON (USA) when told of the statistic. But while he acknowledges it is an important opportunity to get a good start, he says he does not think it is an absolute advantage. 'It's a little bit of an advantage, depending on the wind speed,' was all he would concede.
The pre-start is expected to be very important in this series, with passing opportunities limited. Getting a good jump off the starting line, getting the first puff or shift and being bow forward the first time the boats meet is going to be critical. Thus, the pressure is on helmsmen James SPITHILL (AUS) and Dean BARKER (NZL), of Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand respectively. In its Semi Final against BMW ORACLE Racing, Luna Rossa was very strong in the start box. Similarly, both races that Emirates Team New Zealand lost to Desafío Español came after losing the start. The pre-start is surely critical.
'If you get what you want off the start, our team tends to go with it pretty strongly, as you've seen,' said HORTON. 'If we don't, we try to go into damage control.'
In an effort to counter the aggressiveness of SPITHILL and Luna Rossa, the Kiwi team has focussed on limiting the opportunities they give to the Italians to inflict damage.
'I think he's [SPITHILL] going to take what's presented. If we present him with an opportunity to be aggressive, he's going to take it,' said Emirates tactician Terry HUTCHINSON (USA). 'It wasn't until the fourth for fifth race of the series when BMW ORACLE Racing got the two penalties that you really saw an opportunity presented to Luna Rossa and they took full advantage of it. At this level, if those opportunities are presented to us, for example, I fully expect us to take the same type of advantage. On any given day, if James makes a mistake, I know Dean's going to capitalize on it and vice versa.'
With all the focus on the pre-start, it is easy to forget that much will be decided over the rest of the race course as well. Crew work, tactical decisions when the boats are in close proximity and making the right weather call will all play their part.
A sea breeze day is forecast with high cloud cover breaking up during the afternoon. A northeasterly gradient breeze early in the day should give way to a southeasterly sea breeze of 12-14 knots during the afternoon. It is forecast to be a dry day, with the skies clearing after an overcast start.
The America's Cup Match and Challenger/Defender Series are designated as ISAF Special Events. For more information on the America's Cup, the Louis Vuttion Acts and the teams competing, visit the official America's Cup website - www.americascup.com.For a complete list of all the news about the America's Cup 2007 CLICK HERE.