The two pairs of teams in the Double Chance Group have already earned themselves a tremendous advantage in the Louis Vuitton Cup. Now, with the Quarter-Final, comes the fight to retain that edge.
No. 1 Alinghi ( 13-3) vs No. 4 Prada (11-5)
The top-ranked Alinghi Challenge has elected to race against Prada, the defending Louis Vuitton Cup champions, leaving Oracle BMW Racing to face OneWorld. Both of these pairings offer intriguing matches as all four teams will try desperately to stay in the 'Double Chance Group'.
"For sure we're looking forward to racing Prada," said Russell Coutts. "We all know that they are a very good team, in fact all of the matches that we're going to see now are very even matches."
Alinghi goes into the Quarter-Finals as the topped ranked team on the strength of its performance in the two Round Robins. It has only raced Prada once, in Round Robin One, when the Swiss team beat the Italians by 1:32. In that match, Alinghi led at the first mark and increased its lead on every leg but the final one.
But the Prada team that Alinghi beat in Round Robin One, wasn't the one that turned up in Round Robin Two. After winning just four matches in Round One, Prada returned to win seven of eight races in Round Two, although one of those came at the end when Alinghi declined to sail its final match.
Although the crew on board the Italian boat wasn't changed, ITA-74 underwent extensive modifications between the Round Robins and has been changed again for the Quarter Finals.
"Our whole team is going to be interested as to the effects the modifications on their boat will have,"
said Coutts. "In changing a boat as they are, there is a limit on the time available for testing and you are more reliant on the weather during the testing period between racing. Concentrating on one aspect of development also means less time spent on other aspects of the programme. Obviously choosing a team capable of great change is also a risk for us and in terms of resources Prada is capable of carrying out its changes well."
"For the Quarter Finals I am asking the crew to be focused, aggressive, attentive and determined,"
said Francesco de Angelis, the Italian skipper. "It is an important and difficult match and the stakes are high. The advantage for those who pass directly to the Semi Finals is considerable."
The advantage de Angelis refers to is imbedded in the format of the Louis Vuitton Cup. Teams in the top group who win their Quarter Final pairings advance directly to the Semi-Finals and thus earn more training time. They are burdened with less racing, and therefore don't have to advance as deeply into their limited racing sail inventory. All the teams agree it is very advantageous to remain in the top group.
No. 2 Oracle BMW Racing (12-4) vs. No. 3 OneWorld (13-3)
The other pair vying for that advantage is two American teams, Larry Ellison's Oracle BMW Racing, and Craig McCaw's OneWorld Challenge. Like Prada, Oracle BMW Racing made a significant mode change between Round Robins, and after a major afterguard shake-up after one loss in Round Two, went undefeated the rest of the way. The addition of Chris Dickson as skipper and head of the sailing programme appears to have paid immediate dividends.
"We know it's going to be tough but we also know we have a very strong team and a very good boat, very good hardware,"
Dickson said on Monday. "As we saw in the last round we know that if we do the right job with it, we can win races. We also know that if we make mistakes the other team is right there to take the race off us."
The 'other team' for the next week is OneWorld, who stormed to an unbeaten record in the first round, before stumbling and losing three matches in Round Robin Two, including its race against Oracle BMW.
Skipper Peter Gilmour is bringing out a different boat for the Quarter Finals.
"We're looking forward to the racing with Oracle,"
Gilmour said. "We've had some pretty close races with them in the Round Robin series and that is likely to continue. We're going to be racing with USA-65 in this round which is a change of boats for us and we're looking forward to getting out on the water."
The outcome for this pairing may hang on the weather. USA-76 has looked very fast for Oracle BMW Racing when the wind is strong, although many think it might still struggle in lighter breeze. OneWorld's USA-65 is completely unknown to everyone outside the team, although it is hard to imagine Peter Gilmour picking the slower boat.
All of the Quarter Final matches are best-of-seven series. The winning teams from this Double Chance Group advance directly to the Semi-Finals, while the losers sail in the Repechage where they face the winning teams from the Single-Chance Group. Racing will start one hour later than in the Round Robins with no start gun fired before 13:15 local time