St. Moritz, Switzerland -The opening day of racing at the St. Moritz Match Race dawned bright but cold, with the surface of the lake covered in a thin layer of picturesque mist. However, the tranquil setting belied the intensity of racing that was to come most notably between the British and French teams.
The first start saw double ISAF Match Racing World Champion Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar pitched against local sailor Jérôme Clerc (SUI) Team CER Genève, who gained a wildcard invitation to the event. The young Swiss sailor proved from the outset that he has the talent to mix with sailing’s biggest stars, taking the lead just after the start and holding it until tantalisingly close to the finish.
Clerc was next up against Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN. Approaching the first windward mark, Clerc held a small advantage slightly to windward of the British boat, but Ainslie pulled just far enough forward to slip above the Swiss skipper in a deft manoeuvre that cleared his way to round the mark first.
Clerc, commented: “It was a lot of fun today – we’re not really favourites, but we are really happy to be in contact with them and playing with them.”
Ainslie’s fight with Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team saw the event’s first piece of red-hot anger, including a collision, much shouting between the two teams, and a rapid succession of penalties even before the start gun was fired. With a red flag penalty – to be taken immediately – Iehl’s race was effectively over at the start.
The Brits went on to dominate the first part of the day’s racing, with both teams winning all their races, including Ainslie’s match against current World Match Racing Tour leader Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team. “It’s the start we wanted, even though we’re a bit rusty having missed the last two events. The conditions were very tricky with 20-25 and even 30, degree windshifts and it was important to connect the gusts, especially downwind.”
So what would happen when Ainslie and Williams went head-to-head? After close sparring in the pre-start, Williams held Ainslie out to the wrong side of the committee boat, winning the start by a length and a half. At the windward mark Williams misjudged his tack and collided with Ainslie, but maintained a tenuous lead. At the beginning of the final leg he had extended this to three-lengths, but still had a penalty turn to take before finishing – it was impossible to predict the result, until a gust allowed Williams to extend his lead 150m from the finish line.
The French teams came to the fore in the final races of the day. Ainslie and Bertrand Pacé (FRA) Aleph Sailing Team were evenly positioned at the start, with Pacé at the left-hand end of the line. With the stronger gusts on the left-hand side of the course he quickly pulled out a small lead. Pacé, reflected: “Then we just tried to sail with the best wind, choosing the right side of the course and staying in phase with the wind shifts – it’s easy to stay ahead of the other guy if you do that in these conditions.”
The last race, between Mathieu Richard and Ian Williams, was also the closest. With 15 seconds to go the French skipper looked much too early, yet he found enough wriggle room to make a perfect start, much to the surprise of the spectator crowds. He led throughout the race by the tightest of margins – at the finish just one metre separated the two boats.
Richard, said: “The match with Williams was the most challenging for us today – it was so close all the way. We’re very pleased with our results and the way we sailed, although we know we can still make small improvements.”
It was also a good day for defending champion St. Moritz Match Race Champion, Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing, Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team, who top the rankings along with Williams at the end of day one, each of these skippers having won four races and lost one.
Results after Day 1 of the St. Moritz Match Race:
Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing:4-1
Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar: 4-1
Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team: 4-1
Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAM ORIGIN: 3-2
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team: 3-2
Bertrand Pace (FRA) Aleph Sailing Team: 3-2
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team: 2-3
Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team: 2-3
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Azzurra: 2-3
Eric Monnin (SUI) Swiss Match Racing Team: 2-3
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team: 1-4
Jérôme Clerc (SUI) CER: 0-5