Prada Cup preview: All you need to know about the event deciding who faces NZ for the America's Cup

After months of drama on and off the water, racing for the America’s Cup is set to kick off in just a few days with the start of the Prada Cup.

American Magic and Luna Rossa race against each other.

Here’s a breakdown of the regatta taking place in Auckland and what it’ll mean for Team New Zealand.

What is the Prada Cup?

Prada has taken over long-time sponsor Louis Vuitton for naming rights of the event but it’s still the same as it’s always been, purpose-wise.

The Prada Cup is a series involving all the challengers of the America’s Cup – this year, that’s Italy’s Luna Rossa, INEOS Team UK and American Magic – who compete against each other to win a shot at taking on Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup.

Put simply, the Prada Cup gives the winning challenger the right to contest the Kiwis for the Auld Mug.

What is the Prada Cup’s format?

Despite only three teams competing in the Prada Cup [for contrast, there were five challengers in 2017], there will still be plenty of races on Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour.

The trio will face each other four times across two weekends of racing with the first two round robins taking place this week from Friday January 15 to Sunday January 17. The final two round robins are next week from Friday January 22 to Sunday January 24.

Winning a race is worth one point with the team who earns the most points over the four round robins earning an automatic place in the Prada Cup final.

The two remaining teams will then compete in a best-of-seven series in the Prada Cup semi-finals between Friday January 29 and Sunday February 2; the first to four wins advances to meet the top-ranked challenger in the final.

The Prada Cup Final will then take place two weeks later between Saturday February 13 and Monday February 22 in a best-of-13 series, meaning the first to seven wins takes the Prada Cup.

What time are Prada Cup races?

Two races per day are scheduled for the Prada Cup with the race window between 3pm and 5pm NZT. The only exception to this is in the Final where races will be between 4pm and 6pm.

Where will the races be?

The five courses used for the Prada Cup will be the same that have been used in practice events but the exact locations will depend on weather conditions. The permitted wind range is between 6.5 and 21 knots for the round robins and the semi-finals and between 6.5 and 23 knots for the Final.

Race management will decide each racing day which course will be used.

How can I watch?

There are multiple ways to watch the Prada Cup.

The first, and easiest, is from the comfort of your home on TV or online. TVNZ will be broadcasting the races live on TVNZ 1 as well as online while offering post-race analysis both on the broadcast and the 1 NEWS website.

Kiwis can also head along to the America’s Cup Race Village, located in the Viaduct Marina in Auckland. The Village operates from 10am to 8pm on race days with the main entrance located at the beginning of Hobson Wharf.

The Village offers a stage and big screens to watch the action on.

The final on-land option is from multiple hot-spots along Auckland’s waterfront. Tāmaki Drive and Devonport are considered greats spot to view races on courses C and D.

Northern beaches such as Milford and Takapuna are considered prime locations for racing on course A while Narrow Neck and Cheltenham have views of course B.

Eastern suburbs such as St Heliers are recommended for course D while areas such as Maraetai are suggested for course E.

For those looking to make their way out to any of these locations, race management will make a decision on which course will be used by 10am NZT on any given race day to help with organisation.

For those wanting to get a bit closer, there is the chance to watch the races on the water with race officials marking boundaries where spectator boats will be able to view racing from.

Officials have warned those wishing to watch on the water should do so in vessels no smaller than 5m long, meaning people who own paddleboards, kayaks, or other small vessels should instead watch from land.

Who is the favourite to win the Prada Cup?

The New Zealand TAB has American Magic favoured at $1.75 with Luna Rossa close behind at $2.35. INEOS Team UK are a distant third at $8.00.

The margins reflect performances in practice events in which American Magic were the only ones to take a race off Team New Zealand.

What do Team New Zealand do throughout the Prada Cup?

In all honesty, not a lot when it comes to the event itself.

They’ll be busy working behind the scenes to maximise Te Rehutai’s performance through testing and tinkering throughout the Prada Cup while training alone both on the water and in a simulator.

That’s not to say their presence won’t be felt in the Prada Cup. They’ll certainly have their eyes on the competition and analysing both boats and teams on their strengths and weaknesses before a challenger for the America’s Cup emerges.

When that day arrives, the two remaining teams – Team NZ and the Prada Cup winner – will have two weeks to work on their boats before the America’s Cup officially gets underway on March 6.