Photo: Chris Davies/WMRT

Bruni continues his roll

As the qualifying stages are done and dusted at Match Race Germany

Friday May 27th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Germany

An epic make or break day at Match Race Germany saw Francesco Bruni top the scoreboard after the final flight of the final Qualifying Session while debut Tour Card Holder Johnie Berntsson and Bjorn Hansen were amongst the casualties to go home.

It was an intriguing conclusion to the qualifying sessions, which had been plagued by a lack of wind. Against a backdrop of lashing rain and a peak of 20 knot winds, Bruni stamped his mark on Match Race Germany by beating France's Damien Iehl Team in the final flight of qualifying to earn his place direct to the semi-finals.

Just one defeat in the final qualifying session for Bruni and a solitary defeat for Iehl set up a thrilling last flight decider between the two. Both held two losses each to their names. After a smooth start from both teams, it was Bruni who won the first cross and he tacked to cover. Iehl did a great job of working to boat windward and as they got to the first mark Iehl luffed head to wind to shoot around it. However Bruni had more momentum which carried him around Iehl’s bow and allowed him to set his spinnaker first. The Italian never looked back after that, extending his lead to the finish and with it earning a bye-pass of the Quarter-finals.

Commenting on that last race, Bruni said, “That was no easy match but we controlled it well from the start. Damien was under pressure and we got the right side of the start line which we wanted and had the boat speed to win the race. We feel great because Damien has been the best so far."

Looking ahead, Bruni had every reason to be optimistic: “We’re sailing well and I have a good feeling with the boat. She [Bavaria 40S] is very difficult to sail but I like heavy boats - they match my match racing style. We haven’t won a Qualifying Session on the World Match Racing Tour and if you can win one it’s best to win it here as you go straight through to the Semis. The crew worked hard today so tomorrow we will relax and see what the others are doing.”

For the group of teams on two or three wins after the second qualifying session, their future at Match Race Germany hung in the balance going into this final qualifying session. Five wins was deemed only enough to take you into a tie-break situation.

Peter Gilmour of Yanmar Racing looked odds on to be a big name casualty. With just two wins from five, he then had immediate defeats against Bruni and Richard at the start of this last qualifying session. However, the four-time World Champion clawed himself back into contention in a typically gutsy fashion to put his destiny back into his own hands.

A win over Robertson in a race postponed from earlier would seal it. But, he didn't need it. Bjorn Hansen of Mekonomen Sailing Team faced a must-win final race against France's Mathieu Richard to force a three-way tie-break with Gilmour and Switzerland's Eric Monnin of Team Okalys Corum.  Defeat for Hansen would hand Gilmour a Quarter-Final place. Hansen had just defeated Mathieu Richard in his penultimate race but he failed to replicate that against New Zealand's Phil Robertson of WAKA Racing. The Kiwi was in fine form and keen to qualify as high up the scoreboard as possible to increase his chances in the Quarter-Finals with an early pick.      

For Johnie Berntsson, he will be left to rue some missed opportunities in what was his first regatta of the season. After a dismal start to Match Race Germany, his Berntsson Sailing Team fought back with early wins in the day over Team Synergy's Evgeny Neugodnikov and Hansen but, three defeats in succession against New Zealand's William Tiller of Full Metal Jacket Racing, Gilmour and Dane Jesper Radich of Adrian Lee & Partners saw his hopes fade.

His match against Gilmour is what rankles him most though – leading by some 20 seconds as they approached mark 2, the Race Committee decided to change the mark at the last moment as the original had started dragging off downwind. Berntsson was unaware of the decision and went for the original mark. By the time he realised and corrected his route, Gilmour was on his tail. The Race Committee abandoned the race, however, in the re-sail Berntsson succumbed to Gilmour and with it lost his chances of qualifying.

"We had such a confident lead in the first race something serious had to happen for us to lose", reflected Berntsson. "The Race Committee was right to order a re-sail and at the end of the day we didn't manoeuvre well in the re-match. This situation sums up what we think, which is we know we can beat the best but we don't do it consistently enough. We need to start doing that to win these Tour events."

Joining Gilmour in the Quarter-Finals is Evgeny Neugodnikov who picked up big wins and valuable points against two of the frontrunners - Bruni and Richard – in the final Qualifying Session. Meanwhile, Jesper Radich is in ominous form. After a precarious start here on Lake Constance, he came good with five wins and only one loss today to qualify comfortably behind Iehl, who might just be keen to avoid him in the Quarter-Finals. 

Six teams head into the Quarter-Finals, each needing three points to make it to the Semi-Finals. It was a close run thing throughout the Qualifying Sessions and with Iehl enjoying first pick, it's far from clear who he will opt to go head-to-head with.

Standings After the Third Qualifying Session:
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing 9-2
Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team 8-3
Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners 8-3
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing Team 7-4
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team 7-4
Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing 6-5
Eugeney Neugodnikov (RUS) Team Synergy 6-5
Eric Monnin (SUI) Team Okalys Corum 5-6
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team 4-7
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team 4-7
William Tiller (NZL) Full Metal Jacket Racing 2-9
Stefan Meister (GER) 0-11

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