Team New Zealand off to a flyer in the Audi MedCup

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The Independent Online

It took Emirates Team New Zealand an opening race to clear its throat and then the defending champions of the Audi MedCup series were in full harmony to finish second in the second race and solo supremacy to win the third.

On the opening day of the last of the five regattas which make up the series they returned to the dock holding 54.5-point lead over their nearest rivals, the 2008 champions from America, Quantum. Back-to-back titles will be hard to throw away.

Britain's Team Origin, which has been using the series as part of its America's Cup preparations, managed a seventh and two fourths after skipper Ben Ainslie flew from a crunch meeting over the whole future of the team.

His only problem was to sleep over in Milan before taking an early morning flight to Sardinia. The team chief and principle backer, Sir Keith Mills, has to consider whether to start pouring money into the development of a 72-foot wing sail catamaran while still seeking major outside sponsorship of a campaign which could easily swallow up €100m. over the next three years.

Ainslie and his talented crew, including fellow Olympic gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson, could still grab a podium slot for the 2010 MedCup season, which finishes on Saturday.

He trails Quantum, which has announced that it is to build a new boat for next season, by16.5 points, a bridgeable gap. "We battled hard today," said Percy. "but things didn't fall our way. We can still finish in the top three. But a lot will depend on the coastal race, which counts 1.5 points and where we have often struggled. But we are due a good one."

Quantum is skippered by Terry Hutchinson but he, in theory, would leave the circuit to join the Swedish team Artemis and concentrate on its own America's Cup challenge. He is, however, yet another top sailor who is waiting to see exactly which way the dice will fall, despite the presence in Cagliari of fellow American Ed Baird in full Quantum gear.

Ashore, both the organisers and the sponsors of the MedCup insist that the doom-mongers are being led by the nose and promise a statement later this week.

Listen: Stuart Alexander talks to series organiser Nacho Postigo:

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Alongside their deliberations, a posse of America's Cup challenge team representatives, including Grant Simmer, ceo of Team Origin, is due to fly in for a meeting on Thursday which will consider, among other things, how to fill the two places which the challengers can nominate for the America's Cup Race Management board.

Britain is believed to favour people like the immediate past chief executive of the Royal Yachting Association, Rod Carr, and New Zealand lawyer Jim Farmer. But there are those who favour candidates who are entirely independent from any national or team affiliations.