Finally, the America's Cup 2021 is in sight as the three challengers prepare to start racing in the Prada Cup to see who will take on the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand

The teams are there, the boats are there, and it won’t be long before the racing starts in the Prada Cup, the official competition to select the challenger to take on Emirates Team New Zealand for the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland.

The Prada Cup, as it is now named, used to be called the Louis Vuitton Cup – or Challenger Selection Series. It will decide which of: Luna Rosa Prada Pirelli; INEOS Team UK; or American Magic will take on Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2021 America’s Cup.

What do we know?

In a normal Cup cycle we would have seen plenty of competitive racing by now and would have some idea what to expect, but with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting plans for America’s Cup World Series events in Sardinia and Portsmouth racing has been extremely limited.

As such, our first real chance to see the AC75s racing one another was the America’s Cup World Series, Auckland which took place in December 2020. This should have been followed by the Prada Christmas Cup but that too was called off – due to a lack of wind after just one lacklustre race between Emirates Team New Zealand and INEOS Team UK, which saw both teams all but drifting around the race course.

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All this delay means we know very little about the relative performance of the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, the Challenger of Record Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, INEOS Team UK and American Magic.

That said, from the racing we did see in the America’s Cup Word Series, we know that the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand look like they will be tough to beat come the America’s Cup match itself. We also know that INEOS Team UK looked to have the most work ahead of them with a very disappointing showing at ACWS Auckland.

How does the Prada Cup work?

The Prada Cup itself takes place over the course of two months with all three challengers taking part in a round robin series of ‘match races’ throughout mid-January. This series will see the three challengers racing against each other in four head-to-head races.

After this initial round robin, the best performing challenger goes straight to the Prada Cup final, while the two remaining challengers compete in a Semi-Final with the first team to four wins advancing to the final and the second placed team becoming the first team to be knocked out of the competition.

This Semi-Final starts in the last week of January and could run into February.

The Prada Cup Match itself (the final) will be held throughout February and the first team to seven wins will go on to challenge Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup.

What is match racing?

As is tradition for America’s Cup racing as a whole, each of these races will see one team racing a single other team, or ‘match racing’ as it is known. Match Racing is a unique discipline in the sport of sailing and is explained well by INEOS Team UK sailing team member Matt ‘Catflap‘ Cornwell in the video below.

Race pairings for the Prada Cup (click to enlarge)

How can I watch the Prada Cup?

All of the Prada Cup races will be broadcast live on Sky Sports, NBC Sports, TVNZ, RAI, and Sky Italia, as well as on the America’s Cup YouTube channel and Facebook page.

You can also watch via the Ineos Team UK website, which will also feature daily pre-race shows, hosted by Georgie Ainslie.

There is clearly no shortage of options available, the problem for European viewers is likely to be the timezone difference, with the Prada Cup Round Robin and Semi-Final racing taking place between 0200 and 0400 GMT, while the Prada Cup itself will take place between 0300 and 0500 GMT, so if you want to watch live, you’d better set your alarm clock!