Baird shows his mettle

Alinghi helm wins Marseille International Match Race round robins by one point

Friday March 13th 2009, Author: Dobbs Davis, Location: United Kingdom
In contrast to yesterday’s stately emphasis on timing and speed in light air, today’s match racing action was fast and furious in a breezy Round Robin run-up to the Quarter-Finals of the Marseille International Match Race. Out of a top-ranked field of 12 teams competing for a piece of the €50,000 total purse, only eight have survived this day to carry on in the competition of this first stage in the 2009 World Match Racing Tour.

Leading this pack is Ed Baird (USA) and his America’s Cup-winning crew from Alinghi, whose 5-4 win-loss record of the day would not seem remarkable except that he managed to defeat not only the top two seeds in the competition yesterday - reigning World Champion Ian Williams (GBR) and his Bahrain Team Pindar and Sebastian Col (FRA) and his French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge - but also yesterday’s undefeated Paolo Cian (ITA) and his Team Shosholoza.

Having won this Stage One of the competition, Baird has earned the right to choose his opponent in tomorrow’s start to the first-to-three point Quarter-Final round.

Appreciative of his team of Lorenzo Mazza, Pieter Van Nieuwenhuijzen, and Warwick Fleury, Baird said: “The three guys sailing with me have really earned their living this week. Today especially, with so many starts, tacks, and gybes, we had a lot on all day. It was tough out there, we got beat up by the wind more than anything.”

The wind was tough on race managers from the YC Pointe Rouge as well, who kept busy trying to keep on top of a breeze which flicked back and forth and up and down between a weak offshore Mistral and a late onshore sea breeze. Choosing the correct side of the course was critical in many of today’s nine flights, but even those that chose well had to stay sharp, lest their leads earned early evaporate in the warm Mediterranean sun.

On how he felt getting back into Tour competition, Baird said “It’s great to be out there again with a chance to get back out and race these guys - it was fun!”

While Cian’s impressive 7-0 score yesterday assured him some place in the Quarter-Finals, no one else in the field had such a certain outcome, and even Cian succumbed to lose to all four of his opponents today. In fact, no less than five teams were tied on six points in the 4th through 8th slots in the results.

So the pressure was on for all teams to perform in every match, and the final eight not known until the very last flight. Accordingly, Chief Umpire Alfredo Ricci and his umpire team were kept busy all day, adjudicating on levels of aggressiveness not seen thus far in the competition. Whereas penalties yesterday were relatively few and far between, with half being for benign infractions like hitting marks, today the intense boat-on-boat action resulted in numerous penalties, some deciding matches even as late as on the finish line.

One such match was in Flight 12 in a hotly-contested race between Col and Bjorn Hansen (SWE) and his Team Onboard. Perhaps feeling the pressure to perform as the local favourite, Col made an uncharacteristic error which he would have normally avoided when Hansen, in the lead but carrying a penalty, lured Col to sail between him and the signal boat at the finish. The infraction cost him two penalties from match umpires Philippe Gomez and Arnault Mante, with the first offsetting Hansen’s to clear him without doing a turn to finish and win the match, and the second requiring Col to do his own turn before finishing himself.

But for as many tactical errors as there may have been amongst this talented field, there were also some moments of absolute brilliance. Perhaps with skills learned in winning the qualifying Y’s Cup event, in Flight 10, Damien Iehl (FRA) and his French Match Racing Team pulled off an impressive double-gybe manoeuvre while remaining overlapped to leeward of Torvar Mirsky (AUS) and his Mirsky Racing Team on their final approach into the leeward mark. The move conferred luffing rights to Iehl, who then copped a penalty on the Australians they could not shake before the finish.

Moves like this gave Iehl a 7-4 record, the highest among the non-Tour Card teams and third overall in the Round Robin. Baird, Cian, and Iehl will be joined by Col, Williams, Mirsky, Mathieu Richard (FRA) and his French Match Racing Team/French Spirit, and Adam Minoprio (NZL) and his ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing Team tomorrow morning in the first-to-three point Quarter-Final, due to start at 1000 local time.

Results
1. Ed Baird (USA) Alinghi 8-3
2. Paolo Cian (ITA) Team Shosholoza 7-4
3. Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team 7-4
4. Sébastien Col (FRA) French Match Racing Team 6-5
5. Ian Williams (GBR) Bahrain Team Pindar 6-5
6. Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing Team 6-5
7. Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team 6-5
8. Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team/French Spirit 6-5
9. Philippe Presti (FRA) French Match Racing Team/French Spirit 5-6
10. Pierre Antoine Morvan (FRA) French Match Racing Team 3-8
11. Bjorn Hansen (SWE) 3-8
12. Ian Ainslie (RSA) Team Proximo 3-8

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