The America's Cup challengers' series final between Alinghi and Oracle BMW Racing is shaping up as a billionaires' battle that will pit a bookish young European against a brash U.S. software entrepreneur.
On one side at the starting line in the Hauraki Gulf on Saturday will be Swiss biotechnology heir and Alinghi head Ernesto Bertarelli, a Harvard graduate who has become known on Auckland's syndicate row as "the baby billionaire."
On the other side will be Oracle, the team built from scratch by Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison.
Bertarelli, the 37-year-old chief executive of Serono, Europe's second largest biotechnology firm, is navigator aboard Alinghi and has steered his team through the long Louis Vuitton Cup challengers' series that began in October.
Quiet and polite, Bertarelli began assembling his first America's Cup challenge not long after Team New Zealand's successful Cup defense in 2000.
He shocked the America's Cup world when, after a chance meeting with Team New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts, he lured Coutts to his $55-million challenge.
Bertarelli is an accomplished sailor in his own right and won the 2001 12-meter and Far-40 world championships as helmsman, as well as the Bol d'Or multihull title three times.
Alinghi was the clear favorite before the regatta and has justified it since the first challengers' round robin began Oct. 1.
"Our goal was to come out fast in Round Robin 1 and just keep moving forward," Alinghi's design coordinator Grant Simmer said.
Ellison has kept a much higher profile than Bertarelli and his first Cup challenge has been far more turbulent.
Oracle's estimated $95-million budget was by far the biggest of any of the nine challengers who lined up in October. Ellison, one of the richest men in the world, has funded most of it himself.
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Swiss syndicate Alinghi will compete against U.S. syndicate Oracle BMW Racing in the America's Cup challengers' series final for the right to challenge holders Team New Zealand in the 31st America's Cup.
The syndicates will compete in a best-of-nine final, which starts Saturday and finishes Jan. 21. The winner will meet Team New Zealand in February.