Day of the underdogs

Semi-finallists decided at the Marseille International Match Race

Saturday March 14th 2009, Author: Dobbs Davis, Location: United Kingdom
Having defeated rivals thought to be favoured by higher rankings and better performance in the Round Robin, four underdog teams have advanced to the Semi-Finals in the Marseille International Match Race. In this first stop on the World Match Racing Tour, the remaining four are left to play for 5th to 8th place.

Coming off an impressive win in the Round Robin yesterday after a long hiatus from participation on the Tour, Ed Baird (USA) and his America’s Cup-winning Alinghi team had the longest fight of any of the other three pairs, taking his opponent Adam Minoprio (NZL) and the ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing Team to five matches in the first-to-three point series. Baird felt confident in selecting the young Kiwi team to play this round, but the plan backfired: after losing the first, Minoprio then won matches 2, 4, and 5 to win the round.

Another surprise came for reigning World Champion Ian Williams (GBR) and his Bahrain Team Pindar, who fell to the youngest Tour Card holder Torvar Mirsky (AUS) and his Mirsky Racing Team in three straight matches. In their last match, Williams took the lead early and seemed in control until towards the bottom of the first run.

“We were chasing him down fairly close, and gybed on the layline,” reflected Mirsky. “He had to wait for some waves from spectator boats before he gybed to cover, which allowed us to roll over him and take the lead at the bottom mark. From that point on our team felt comfortable controlling the lead from there to the finish.”

After losing two to fellow French rival Mathieu Richard and his French Match Racing Team/French Spirit, Sebastian Col and his French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge finally won the third match to keep hopes alive for this local favorite and ISAF-ranked No.1 team. But in the fourth match Richard and team took and held an early lead to take the win and advance to the next round.

And the light air of the morning looked perfectly suited for Paolo Cian (ITA) and his Team Shosholoza, who won 7-0 in the first day of competition and looked comfortable controlling rival Damien Iehl (FRA) of the French Match Racing Team, even drawing a penalty on him in the pre-start. But the remainder of the round did not go as well, with Iehl winning the next three in very close combat with Cian, thereby advancing as the only non-Tour Card team to advance to tomorrow’s Semi-Finals.

For many teams today the key to winning was taking and controlling the favoured left side of the course, where there was slightly more pressure bending around the high breakwater of the marina at Pointe Rouge. An example of executing this strategy in masterful style was Minoprio’s Match 4 pre-start with Baird, where Baird was kept away from the pin end and forced to gybe away while Minoprio crossed the line at the starting horn. Baird battled back immediately by extending slightly to the right, tacking to starboard, and when the Kiwis tacked back to lee-bow Baird they tacked too close and earned a penalty from match umpires Alfredo Ricci and Nevin Baran.

But the move did manage to keep Baird from the left, where Minoprio kept gaining and extending his lead sufficiently to do his penalty turn on the second beat and still remain ahead to the finish.

With this win, the score was now tied into the final match, and once again the Kiwis managed to win the pin, but in a decidedly unconventional and risky way when both they and Baird were called over the line early at the start. Minoprio bore off and gybed around the pin to come back at the line on port tack, whereas Baird simply bore off on starboard to clear the line. Minoprio was cleared first, giving him the right of way while on port since Baird, though on starboard, had not yet been cleared of the line by the Race Committee and was therefore give-way.

At the instant when Baird had cleared, and was now right of way, he was headed right at Minoprio, who was in the process of tacking back to starboard to keep clear of Baird. The umpires reckoned Minoprio was entitled to an opportunity to keep clear, so the incident was given a green flag, and just like in Match 4 Minoprio owned the left and sailed on to victory.

After a late afternoon sponsor fleet race but with the sun getting even lower in the sky, match race action resumed with the 5th-8th place consolation round and the start of the Semi-Finals, but this ended more with a whimper than a bang as the sea breeze died off and shifted 80 degrees to being off the Pointe Rouge Plage. Principal Race Officer Gerard Bosse elected to let the Col-Williams and Cian-Baird matches go on despite the big shift, but kept the start of the Semi-Finals for tomorrow. In these, Col managed to defeat Williams after the British team could not shed a penalty before finishing, and Baird traded leads with Cian but in the end kept Cian from the pin end of the finish to win the right to meet Col tomorrow to play for fifth place.

So, for tomorrow’s first-to-three point Semi-Finals, the pairings will be Mirsky versus Richard and Minoprio against Iehl. The forecast is for some exciting Mistral conditions once again, with the action due to start at 1000 local time.

Semi Final Pairings
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team v Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team/Team French Spirit
Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing v Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team

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