Hutchinson shows size of Mills' challenge

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The Independent Online

A treat is being cooked up for Britain's America's Cup challenge chief, Sir Keith Mills, when he guests on board John Cook's TP52 Cristabella in Spain at the end of this month.

The racing in the third of the Audi MedCup series in Sardinia this week has been vintage stuff and if Cook's boat has been struggling to keep up with newer, powerfully crewed rivals – he was 10th of the 13 on the grid this week – Sir Keith, who led Britain's Olympic bid, may find his trip the clincher in deciding to join the circuit with his Origin team.

He will find himself in high tariff territory, as both the Spanish and German challenges are using the circuit to stay sharp while the courtroom battles between the Cup holder, Ernesto Bertarelli, and sole challenger, Larry Ellison, are resolved.

The real resolution will, eventually, have to be forged on the water in boats. Sir Keith's own foray in a new TP52 was limited to one week in Marseille earlier this year. This week's Italian heist was engineered by the Americans in the shape of Terry Hutchinson and tactician Morgan Larson, whose improving Quantum revelled in the fresher breezes. At the halfway stage Hutchinson has snatched not just the Sardinia Trophy but the overall lead from the fast starting Mean Machine, the mount of Dutch owner and skipper Peter de Ridder.

If the odd billionaire backer were not daunting enough, Sir Keith will also be faced by the deep pockets of two Russian teams: one, Valars, backed by the biggest grain and cereals company from the former Soviet Union, the other, Rusal, by the aluminium company which has abut 50 per cent of the world market.

So far the entourage of girls and minders has caused more of a stir on the dock than the sprinkling of ex-Olympians on the water. The Origin team, which would be led by the Volvo Race winner Mike Sanderson, should be able to out-organise and outsail them. This may not be the America's Cup, for which Sir Keith was budgeting £25 million a year, but his first year in a TP52 could easily cost £2m.

Stuart Alexander talks to Terry Hutchinson