The Louis Vuitton Cup final is set between Switzerlands Alinghi and Americas Oracle/BMW Racing. In six previous races, Alinghi has won five times. Defending Americas Cup champion Russell Coutts is the heavy favorite to defeat Oracle in the best of nine series scheduled to start January 11, 2003.
Oracle has several things going for it. The Farr Yacht Design team is hungry for victory. This is the firms sixth Cup campaign, and they desperately want to win. The Farr people will be working overtime looking for small improvements in speed. Funding is not an issue, which is essential at this late stage. The crew has performed well on the water. The semifinal repechage match against OneWorld was a good tune-up to prepare for Alinghi.
The combination of Farr and Oracle skipper Chris Dickson has worked together in the past (1987, 1995). Dickson has a good technical mind and will be open to ideas from the design team. By defeating OneWorld quickly (4-0), Dickson and crew now have nearly three weeks to prepare. They will have to practice every day. Starting technique and clever sailing strategy have made the difference in the racing so far. The whole team must be tuned to a fine edge, because Alinghi has sailed flawlessly.
The teams should encourage CORM, the regattas manager, to raise the wind limit to 25 knots. Oracle seems to do well in a stronger breeze, plus both teams need to be ready for Team New Zealand. The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron will run races up to this wind level.
Oracle needs to settle down its rotation in the cockpit. Peter Holmberg has been outstanding as the starting helmsman. Dickson likes to steer, but also tends to look around. The team needs to make a decision, practice in that mode, and stick to it through the racing.
Oracle will find that all of New Zealand hopes they defeat Alinghi. Russell Coutts is very unpopular in his native country for jumping ship to Switzerland. I think the New Zealanders would prefer to take on the American boat in the Cup final.
Whether either Alinghi or Oracle can defeat Team New Zealand in the Americas Cup is still a big question. But for now all the energy of both teams is focused on earning that privilege. Alinghi is favored but Oracle has a shot if they practice well, find a little bit more speed and sail a mistake-free series.