Hamilton, Bermuda - Reigning ISAF Match Racing World Champion Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing was given a stern reminder of just how difficult it is to win the Argo Group Gold Cup today as his team faced a series of tight battles in Qualifying Session 2.
Minoprio’s ‘group of death’ includes the unenviable mix of triple Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN, last year’s winner of the Qualifiers Eric Monnin (SUI) Swiss Match Racing Team and a young undaunted Kiwi in the shape of Rueben Corbett (NZL) Black Sheep Racing. Assessing the task ahead, Minoprio said: “This is the group of death. With five of us looking for the top spots it’s really tough – some of the good guys will be knocked out.”
The 22 skippers here are split into three groups for the Qualifying Sessions, with only the top two in each group guaranteed a place in the Quarter-Finals. A further two from each group will get a second bite of the cherry to qualify in a repechage.
Minoprio’s first fight today was against Corbett, a fellow young Kiwi undefeated in Qualifying Session 1 and keen to follow in Minoprio’s footsteps to success. However, this was a match in which experience ruled over raw talent – Minoprio started with a windward advantage and the young Kiwi was never able to escape the shadow of his compatriot.
Minoprio’s next challenge was a giant clash with Monnin (SUI). The Kiwi team led Monnin over the start however the Swiss wriggled free of Minoprio’s grasp to take a slender margin at the first mark. Minoprio fought back hard, forcing the Swiss into multiple gybes on the final run but still trailed by half a length at the finish.
The next two battles – Minoprio vs Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team and Monnin vs Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN had spectators hanging on the edge of their seats. With Iehl leading at the first windward mark, it was looking like a bad morning for Minoprio. However, the reigning champion sneaked ahead on the second beat and held the lead to the finish.
Ainslie started to windward of Monnin and looked to be in control however the Swiss slipped free of his control to take a narrow lead at the first mark. The Brits attacked hard throughout the rest of the race but couldn’t prevent Monnin extending his lead.
The Swiss skipper was elated as he came ashore: “It’s really great – first we beat the World Champion and then a boat with five Olympic gold medals. The most important thing for us was that we had really good boat speed – that’s how we got ahead after our two bad starts.”
Iehl, Fraser and Pawluk are already out of contention for a place in the Quarter-Finals, while Monnin is currently looking best placed to go straight to the next stage. Corbett is also looking well placed, however Minoprio must win his race against Ainslie tomorrow to pick up a guaranteed ticket to the Quarter-Finals. Ainslie, however, is already consigned to the repechage play off.