Andy Rice looks at who's hot in the last event of the Audi Medcup as he rides aboard Tau on the eve of the Portimao event

It may only have been the practice race of the TP52s’ Portugal Trophy, but jostling for position at the start line of the Audi MedCup Circuit was still fierce between the 15 TP52s in Portimao today. I was along for the ride aboard Tau Ceramica Andalucia, owned by Javier Banderas who does the navigating. Double Olympic Champion Luis Doreste was doing tactics for the first time on Tau, after his previous ride, Cam, broke and sank in dramatic fashion, a few weeks earlier at the Trofeo Reina in Valencia.

Portimao produced lovely conditions today, 10 knots of steady breeze and blazing sunshine. Steady conditions in a fleet as hot as the TP52s means everyone arrives at the marks at the same time. We were neck and neck with series leaders Quantum Racing as we sailed up the middle of the course. Three-quarters of the way to the top mark, and we were in the front group and had earned a boatlength’s advantage on the Americans aboard Quantum. We held our lane while Quantum’s Terry Hutchinson had to breathe our bad air. Just a few minutes later at the top mark we rounded in 5th, Quantum in 14th – second last place. A staggering example of how the tiny differences multiply exponentially.

Despite a speed-sapping double-gybe after one of our gennaker sheets came undone downwind, Tau’s skipper Jose-Maria Torcida grabbed another place to get us up to 4th by the leeward gate. I noticed Quantum had taken a few places down that leg too, although they were still a long way back. At the final windward mark, still in 4th place we gybed off early looking for extra pressure, and gybed back two minutes later to consolidate. That proved to be a damaging move and three boats slid past us.

Just seconds separated the middle of the fleet as boat after boat crossed the finish, but Tau came off badly and slumped to 7th at the finish. And who was 6th? Quantum Racing. A staggering recovery and an example of why Terry Hutchinson’s team have been the ones to beat this season. Matador led the race, but peeled off towards the end, happy to pass over the bad luck (for those who are superstitious about winning practice races) to the succinctly named vessel, Audi TP52 Powered by Q8.

With a points advantage of 41.2 points over second placed Bribon, steered by Hutchinson’s old team mate from the last America’s Cup, Dean Barker, Quantum is going to have to come seriously unstuck to lose its grip on the Audi MedCup Circuit 2008. But as ever, the meticulous Hutchinson is taking nothing for granted. “Our biggest competitors are always ourselves,” he says. “We haven’t sailed a perfect regatta yet and so it’s ourselves we need to compete against the most. We’re certainly not going to get drawn into match racing Dean. If he goes left and we want to go right, we’ll go right because getting into a defensive mode of sailing is a sure way to lose points. We’ll aim to sail the best we can, and if someone else sails better than us, then we’ll be the first to congratulate them.” Chances are though that it’s Hutchinson who’ll be receiving the adulation at the end of this week.