Strong line-up

Anne Hinton previews the New Zealand National Match Race Championship this weekend in Auckland

Wednesday November 24th 2004, Author: Anne Hinton, Location: Australasia
The New Zealand National Match Racing Championships have a star-studded entry list this year, with two teams each from the ‘local’ America’s Cup syndicates: Emirates Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle Racing. Last year’s champion, Gavin Brady, is not defending his title, so his entry slot went to last year’s runner-up, Cameron Dunn.

The philosophy behind the rest of the entry list of ten was as follows: One entry to someone from Emirates Team New Zealand (which is running its America’s Cup campaign through the Match Racing Championships’ host club: the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron). Emirates TNZ chose to give this slot to Dean Barker.

Chris Dickson, from BMW Oracle Racing, was given a wild card entry (perhaps, as a team mate of Gavin Brady, he could, in some sense, be regarded as defending the title).

The Squadron’s youth match racing champion, Adam Minoprio, was given a direct entry to the event.

An entry was offered to the winner of the winter match racing series at the Squadron: Phil Douglas, but Douglas chose not to take up this offer.

Two places were then made available to those ‘high on the ISAF match race ranking list’. These went to Michael Dunstan (of OzBoys Challenge) and Bertrand Pace (BMW Oracle Racing). Dunstan and Pace are ranked, respectively, as 28th and 29th. It is noteworthy that Pace counts only four events to score his 29th place, whereas Dunstan’s 28th is based on results from 8 events.

The remaining four places were determined from a qualification event that took place last weekend, also with ten entries. The top four from this event - Simon Minoprio, Laurie Dury, Ben Ainslie and Scott Dickson - gained the last four places to compete in this year’s National Match Racing Championships. Simon Minoprio, Laurie Dury and Scott Dickson are ranked, respectively, 32nd, 33rd and 34th on the current ISAF match race ranking list. Ainslie, with many times former NZ Match Race Champion, Rod Davis, on board as mentor/tactician/mainsheet hand, started match racing with the qualifier, but came on in leaps and bounds over the two days of racing, winning all of his races on the second day, to qualify easily for helming in the main event.

Of the entrants, several are former NZ match race champions: Dean Barker (1997), Chris Dickson (1999), Rod Davis, who is sailing with Ben Ainslie (2000 and 2001), and Ray Davies, who is sailing with Dean Barker (1995 and 1996). Bertrand Pace, formerly of Team New Zealand, has also taken part before, finishing as a close runner-up (in third place in 2000).

Brady is not the only ‘major’ New Zealand match racer absentee: winner of the Grade 2 event (which replaced the Steinlager Line 7 Cup) earlier in the year, Cameron Appleton, now based in the northern hemisphere, is also missing from the line-up. The likes of Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth are absent too. It is full credit to the strength in depth of New Zealand match racing talent that the field is still first rate with home-grown sailors in their absence. Given this level of competition, it is amazing that the New Zealand National Championships rank only as an ISAF Grade 3 event!

Picking a likely winner from this field, prior to the event, is clearly not possible. However, the entrants from both BMW Oracle Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand (including Ben Ainslie who has demonstrated an incredibly steep learning curve in match racing from the qualification event) should all be in the final stages of the competition. Cameron Dunn came very close to defeating Russell Coutts at the Bermuda Gold Cup last year and must be in with a chance here, being runner-up as he was to Gavin Brady last year.
As results in Australia, and the ISAF rankings show, Michael Dunstan is much on a level with Simon Minoprio (they have fought out the finals of the last two Aussie National titles between them, taking one apiece). In turn, Minoprio senior is ranked alongside Dury and Scott Dickson (Chris’ youngest brother) and of a similar level in match racing terms. Adam Minoprio has the least experience, still being in the Squadron’s youth squad, but has been known to have the upper hand of his brother at sailing events.

The event will also see Barker and Ainslie match race each other for the first time, as with brothers Chris and Scott Dickson in their capacity of helmsmen. There will also be the Minoprio in-family rivalry to watch. One thing is certain, this match race event will produce some very lively racing!

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