British match racers take control
The tension was palpable deep in the Swiss Alps at the St Moritz Match Race today as the final push to qualify for the quarter-finals reached fever pitch. While three teams were assured of their place, a further six started the day virtually tied on points, ready to fight tooth and nail for the remaining four places and a chance to have a crack at taking the 'King of the Mountain' title.
At the head of the pack, Ian Williams of Team GAC Pindar, TeamOrigin's Ben Ainslie and Mathieu Richard made light work of the tricky, shifty conditions that have characterised the racing on Lake St Moritz. With their path to the next round soon assured, the scene was set for the other teams to fight it out to put their rivals on the next plane home.
What ensued was match racing at its most intense - the skippers pushed and often broke the rules of match racing and sportsmanship, keeping the on-water umpires fully occupied. Bill Edgerton, Chief Umpire, said: "The competition here is red hot, with sailors making quick-fire decisions and straying well into the interpretative part of the rules."
The heavyweights of Australian Torvar Mirsky, lying second overall on the Tour before this event, Azzurra skipper Francesco Bruni and reigning 'King of the Mountain' Adam Minoprio of ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing, knew they had a dogfight on their hands if they were to progress further. Before going afloat, Mirsky summed up the challenge: "It's a do or die day for us. We need to overtake at least one team, but we're up against Ainslie, Williams and Richard."
In the first bout between Williams and Bruni, a constant mix of aggressive yet measured sailing demonstrated why Williams is a double ISAF Match Racing World Champion by taking a closely-fought victory. The clouds were drawing in on the trio of increasingly apprehensive skippers, as Ainslie and Richard similarly outgunned Mirsky and Minoprio respectively.
Down but not out and with pride and the added incentive of substantial prize money at stake, the underdogs came back for more with renewed determination and eventually Bruni, Minoprio and Mirsky all led their next opponents home.
The fight back meant four teams were then tied on 6-5 each, with the final three quarter-final places ultimately decided on count back, with Minoprio, Hansen and Iehl going through, while Bruni and Mirsky left to rue their missed opportunities.
A delighted Ainslie commented: "Conditions out there were very tough for everyone and we're very happy to be going through to the quarter-finals. It was an interesting last race for us, we tried to offload a penalty by gybing on the layline to the windward mark instead of tacking but it didn't work and Bruni got ahead."
Ian Williams, added: "We're very pleased to have a guaranteed top four position and, by winning the round robins, we've secured a place in the semi-finals. We'll be watching the quarter-finals very carefully, trying to learn more about how the breeze is structured on the course, and look for ideas to improve our boat handling."
Elsewhere, Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team and Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team both notched up a impressive victories to leave them each with a 6-5 scoreline whilst Bertrand Pacé (FRA) Aleph Sailing Team took two bullets to secure his place in the next round.
Results after the Round Robin at the St. Moritz Match Race:
Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar: 9-2
Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAM ORIGIN: 8-3
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team: 7-4
Bertrand Pace (FRA) Aleph Sailing Team: 7-4
Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team: 6-5
Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team: 6-5
Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing: 6-5
Francesco Bruni (ITA) AZZURRA: 6-5
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team: 5-6
Eric Monnin (SUI) Swiss Match Racing Team: 4-7
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team: 2-9
Jérôme Clerc (SUI) CER: 0-11