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  Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
How the America's Cup works
The quest for sailing's Auld Mug is in two parts, the Louis Vuitton Cup - to determine a challenger - and the America's Cup proper between the pretenders to the throne and the holders.

Nine challenger syndicates will line up for the Louis Vuitton Cup in Auckland in October 2002 and the series will take four months to complete.

Having successfully defended the Cup in 2000, hosts Team New Zealand will not be required to compete until February, 2003.

The format of both events is match-racing, which is a straight duel between two boats racing head-to-head.

All races in both competitions take place on one of three 18-nautical mile courses in the Hauraki Gulf, 10 miles from Auckland harbour.

Competitors must do three laps of a sausage-shaped circuit, which is marked out by two buoys three nautical miles apart.

The course is always positioned into the wind so that the boats race upwind to the windward (top) mark which is rounded before heading downwind to the leeward (bottom) mark.

Prada hold aloft the Louis Vuitton Cup after beating AmericaOne in the last race of the Louis Vuitton finals
Prada won the 2000 Louis Vuitton Cup before losing to defenders New Zealand
The Louis Vuitton Cup begins with every competitor racing against all the others twice.

The top eight boats advance to the best-of-seven quarter-finals, where they are seeded according to performance.

The best four round-robin performers are put in "double chance" quarters, from which two winners progress directly to the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, the two losers get another chance to progress by facing the winners of the other "single chance" quarter-finals for their places in the last four.

The semi-finals follow a similar format, also over seven head-to-head races.

The top two semi-finalists vie for an automatic berth in the final, and then the loser takes on the winner of the other last-four match.

When two boats are left in the competition, the rival campaigns declare themselves for the challenger showdown.

This battle for the Louis Vuitton Cup is fought over nine races and decides the opponent for Team NZ.

It is then time for the America's Cup, sailing's biggest prize, held over nine races on the same courses.

And, by early March, 2003, the Hauraki Gulf will crown its new champions.

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