Williams and Berntsson unbeaten
Ian Williams continued his rich vein of form in the opening qualifying session at the St Moritz Match Race winning all five matches to take a joint overnight lead alongside Johnie Berntsson. It was a telling display from the in-form Team GAC Pindar at the start of the sixth stage of the World Match Racing Tour, while defending ‘King of the Mountain’ Mathieu Richard fell to four defeats from five.
Double match racing World Champion Williams came into St. Moritz following back-to-back wins in Portugal and Sweden. Key scalps for his team today included early wins over Pierre Antoine Morvan and Switzerland's Eric Monnin of Okalys Corum Sailing Team. Those points set the tone for his day with further big wins over the French Match Racing Team duo of Richard and Damien Iehl.
Iehl went into his match with Williams also unbeaten and it was far from a routine victory for the British team. Iehl pulled out an early lead which Williams reined in, forcing the French team to defend from Williams on the downward run. Williams took the lead but also earned a penalty after an intense luffing match. On the final run he had built a 20 second lead which proved enough to take both the penalty and the win, but only just.
A 4-0 scoreline soon became 5-0 after a resounding win in his final race against Dane Jesper Radich of Adrian Lee & Partners. Reflecting on the opening day, when the Maloja wind brought gusts of 25 knots, Williams said: “In St. Moritz you need a little bit of luck and things went our way today. The conditions are always tricky and shifty here and all of our races have been a bit touch and go but we’ve managed to stay loose and to roll with the punches.
“It’s always important to get off to a good start but you still have to stay focused. We’ve found in the past that when you get off to a bad start you can tighten up and things become harder for you so having a few wins behind you and a loose style of sailing helps. There is however a fine line between being loose and becoming too casual.”
Swede Johnie Berntsson will be buoyed not only with his unbeaten scoreline but also by the teams he defeated and manner in which he achieved it. Against both Kiwi Phil Robertson and Australian Torvar Mirsky of The Wave Muscat, he came from behind to take the spoils. He has Mirsky to thank after a poor spinnaker hoist handed him the lead in that match. His third Tour Card Holder scalp of Francesco Bruni preceded a six boat length winning margin over Swiss sailor Jérôme Clerc. With a final victory over Bjorn Hansen securing his joint position at the top of the standings, Berntsson reflected: “The day couldn’t have been better for us but still it’s going to be tough to get into the top seven spots. Racing is always tough and tomorrow we take on Iehl, Radich, Williams and Monnin. We’ve practiced against Williams and he’s looking very strong. Anyone can win though, as we’ve seen by some results today where lower ranked guys have beaten some of the top guys. It’s so close between the teams – it’s all about how you perform on the day.”
For Richard, two of his four defeats came at the hands of fellow countrymen Iehl and Pierre Antoine Morvan in his opening two races. Williams dispatched him in the next match after which he rallied his team to take a much-needed win against Radich. Any sense of relief was premature though as his team signed off the opening day with a further defeat to Eric Monnin.
“There were a lot of things that went wrong today”, commented Richard. “We struggled on lots of little points - Our starts at the beginning of the day were not good although they were improving near the end. It was very difficult and the score is reflective of the way we sailed. We are looking to start again tomorrow, come out fresh and improve on today to make up the ground we’ve lost.”
Morvan is showing the tenacity he displayed earlier in the season on his home waters at Match Race France where he took fifth place. Resounding wins in the first Qualifying Session here against the three Tour Card Holders of Richard, Radich and finally versus Iehl, a race he commanded from start to finish, leaves him with a healthy 4-1 overnight scoreline: “It was a very good day and could have been a perfect day if we had won our first match but we are looking good for the quarter-finals,” said Morvan. “Our aim is to make the semi-finals so hopefully we’ll keep sailing this way. It’s our aim to get a Tour Card next year so getting these results today is good for us.”
Eric Monnin finishes the opening Qualifying Session with one point to his name, just above Swiss Match Race Champion Jérôme Clerc who endured a torrid winless day. Monnin reflected: “It was a very difficult day for us. We got 2 ½ point penalties for two separate collisions which isn’t great. They were both very hard decisions and could have gone either way but that’s the game. We need to come back and start again. We obviously have some problems interpreting the rules so we will have to work on that for tomorrow.”
Standings after the First Qualifying Session:
Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar 5-0
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team 5-0
Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Extreme Team Morbihan 4-1
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat 3-2
Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team 3-2
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team 3-2
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing 2-3
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing 2-3
Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners 1-4
Eric Monnin (SUI) Oklays Corum Sailing Team 1-4
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team 1-4
Jérôme Clerc (SUI) Team CER 0-5