Team Origin square up with ETNZ

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The Independent Online

A dress rehearsal of what could be the final of the Louis Vuitton Trophy series is in prospect tomorrow as Britain's unbeaten Team Origin squares up against the only other unbeaten team in the event, Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ).

It will be a no quarter given, no quarter asked confrontation between the two best crews in the eight-team contest with the Kiwis the favourites if only because of the length of time they have sailed together.

Origin, the British hope for the America's Cup when the current dust storm has settled, has four straight wins so far. ETNZ has five, due to a race schedule interrupted by unstable weather, and, to add a little extra needle, British skipper Ben Ainslie was tune-up helmsman for ETNZ ahead of the last America's Cup, where ETNZ was the ultimate challenger to Swiss holder Alinghi.

"Beating Grant Dalton is all that matters," said Ainslie dockside at the end of a day made even better by "one of those races when everything came together for us." The win over the California-based America's Cup challenger BMW Oracle combined determination and skill as Ainslie, consulting constantly with tactician and fellow Olympic gold medallist Iain Percy, plus Andrew Simpson and, up the mast scanning the horizon for advantage, Rob Greenhalgh, seized the favoured side of the track.

There was a price to pay in the form of a slower start; the reward was a win by an impressive two minutes and one second and yet another hike in the confidence of a team that has noticeably improved since Auckland in February "but is not the finished article."

Vicious Atlantic gales tonight stood between the 14 yachts in the first half of the Transat Jacques Vabre from Le Havre before picking up the tradewind motorway of the second half to Costa Rica.

Still leading was Sebastien Josse, racing for the Ellen MacArthur team on BT with Jean-Francois Cuzon, part of a northern group that, after only a short respite, was again facing 40-knot winds.

Even more could hit Britain's Alex Thomson, racing with team colleague Ross Daniel on Hugo Boss, who looked well-placed to be favourably positioned for the second half of the race when the influence of the adverse weather systems fades out at the weekend.

Leading British team was Mike Golding and Javier Sanso, fourth on MGYR while, in the south, ninth-placed Sam Davies and Sidney Gavignet on Artemis were hoping to skirt the worst of the weather.

One place, and 10 miles astern of Golding, were Dee Caffari and Brian Thompson on Aviva while the surprise has been the defending champion, Michel Desjoyeaux, playing catch-up from 13th with co-skipper Jeremie Beyou.

Despite apparently reaching agreement in New York that Swiss America's Cup holder Alinghi would race the US challenger BMW Oracle off Valencia in February, Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli is pursuing his appeal in the New York Supreme Court that his first choice of Ras al Khaimah should be restored.

He also wants further consideration given to two Queensland, Australia venues, Townsville and Airlie Beach.

Larry Ellison's Oracle team, which has been pushing for Valencia, is unlikely to agree and is, in any case, concentrating on the development of a giant wing mast/sail unveiled at its training camp in San Diego on Monday.

The carbon fibre wing, which stands nearly 190 feet high, is just short of the total wingspan, including fuselage, of a jumbo jet. Uncalibrated estimates of its first outing of Point Loma claimed that, in 10 knot of wind the boat hit 32 knots through the water.

Further judgements in Oracle's favour are thought to be contained in a yet to be published document from a panel of three sailing rules experts answering a request for guidance from New York Supreme Court judge Shirley Kornreich. Most importantly, it is thought to uphold a like-for-like system of measuring the dimensions of both Alinghi's catamaran and Oracle's trimaran.