The skippers include: Great Britain's Ian WILLIAMS Team Pindar, France's Mathieu RICHARD, Australia's James SPITHILL, Kiwi brothers Adam and Simon Minoprio and last year's inaugural winner Dean Barker.
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Commodore John CRAWFORD is very enthusiastic about the high calibre of this year's international skipper line-up saying it demonstrates the importance of the grade-one event in the lead-up to the America's Cup.
'The high level of skippers competing shows the significance of this event on the international yachting calendar, especially as it will be a final showcase of each skipper's skills and abilities ahead of the America's Cup in Valencia,' he said.
Match racing regattas such as the America's Cup are ideal spectator sports with skippers and their crews battling it out one-on-one in identical boats during a series of intense quick-fire races. The public will be able to watch the match racing free of charge across the five days of racing by coming down to the Harbour Bridge-end of Westhaven Marina, Auckland.
The public will also have the chance to see all of the world-class skippers at the closing ceremony outside Soul Bar on the Viaduct around 15:00 (local time) when the winner sails in after the final race on January 28.
Auckland City Mayor Dick HUBBARD and the organisers of the Auckland Match Racing Cup are predicting the event will bring significant benefits to Auckland and New Zealand, particularly with such a high-profile skipper line-up.
'The event is set to become an annual highlight of Auckland's event calendar and one which will bring sustainable economic benefits to the region. Events such as the Auckland Match Racing Cup - including last year's event - attract considerable direct and indirect expenditure from a variety of sources including racing teams, sponsors, spectators, international media and visitors,' he said.
Reigning 2006 Auckland Match Racing Cup champion and current New Zealand Match Racing Champion Dean BARKER will return again this year to defend his title. The Herne Bay local is a New Zealand sailing favourite, training with Team New Zealand before the 1995 America's Cup regatta, helming Team New Zealand for the 2000 America's Cup regatta, and skippering the 2003 regatta. BARKER won the Congressional Cup in 2005 and is currently the skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand.
James SPITHILL from Australia, is a professional skipper and is currently ranked 27th in the world. He came first in the Brazil Sailing Cup this year. He is the helmsman for the Italian Luna Rossa challenge in America's Cup.
World number two, Ian WILLIAMS from the United Kingdom and world number three, Mathieu RICHARD from France, are the two highest ranked competitors in this event. WILLIAMS is currently leading the World Match Racing Tour. The 29-year-old is a professional sailor based in Hamble in the United Kingdom. RICHARD, 31, is a sailing legend in his home-country France, being the four-time French champion in Optimist and 420 dinghies. He also won the prestigious ISAF Nations Cup Grand Final in Ireland 2006.
Kiwi brothers, Adam MINOPRIO and Simon MINOPRIO, will be competing against each other in their debut at the Auckland Match Racing Cup. The two sailors are from Milford, Auckland. Adam, 21, recently came fourth in the New Zealand Match Racing Championships, granting him a wildcard entry into the competition. The engineering student won the 2006 Asian Match Racing championships as well as the 2006 Warren Jones Youth regatta in Australia. His older brother Simon, 23, is currently ranked fourteenth in the world. He came first in the Algarve Cup 2006 and the Warren Jones youth regatta 2005, and sixth in the Congressional Cup 2006. Both are graduates of the Squadron's Lion Foundation Youth Training Programme.
Eugeny NEUGODNIKOV from Russia won the Toyota Sopot Match Race for 2006. He also came first in the Gran Premio Citta di Lugano Match Race 2005 and third at this year's ISAF Nations Cup Grand Final in Ireland.
Brian ANGEL from the United States is new to the competition this year. He is both a coach and a sailor from California. In 2006 he won the ISAF Nations Cup Regional Final for North America and came fourth in the ISAF Nations Cup Grand Final in Ireland 2006. He also came second in the US Match Race Championships 2006. Brian is the second highest ranked American sailor (only eight places behind Ed Baird) at only 25 years of age.
The teams will sail on the Farr MRX match racing fleet used last year and for the former Steinlager Line 7 Cup regattas.
Skipper, Nation, Team, ISAF World Match Race Ranking as at 6 December 2006
Ian WILLIAMS (GBR), Team Pindar - 2
Mathieu RICHARD (FRA) - 3
Eugeny NEUGODNIKOV (RUS) - 7
Simon MINOPRIO (NZL) - 16
Dean BARKER (NZL), Emirates Team New Zealand - 24
James SPITHILL (AUS), Luna Rossa - 27
Brian ANGEL (USA) - 32
Przemek TARNACKI (POL) - 38
Adam MINOPRIO (NZL) - 46
Scott DICKSON (USA) - 90
The Auckland Match Racing Cup is a grade-one international event and entry to the competition is by invitation only. The New Zealand America's Cup Race Committee has been reconvened to oversee the event and the competition has been officially sanctioned by the International Sailing Federation (www.sailing.org).
The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has hosted international match racing events since 1979, initially as the Citizen International Match Racing Series, then the Steinlager Cup and now there is the new era of the Auckland Match Racing Cup.