Hamilton, Bermuda - Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar sponsored by Argo Group crashed out of Stage 8 of the ISAF World Match Racing Tour in dramatic fashion following a three way tie-break between his team, Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing and Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN.
After a tense period of deliberation locked away in the race office, the committee called for a sail-off but the skippers were unimpressed. In an atmosphere of tension, confusion and frustration, Ainslie’s tactician Iain Percy remonstrated that his team’s earlier defeat of Minoprio appeared to count for nothing. Ian Williams also called to question the very format of the proposed sail-off.
It fell to the international jury to attempt to diffuse the mounting controversy. After a long deliberation, Chief Umpire Shane Borrell explained that the countback should be based on all the earlier matches, not just those in the Play-Off. The sail-off was therefore unnecessary and Ainslie and Minoprio would go forward to join the other six teams in tomorrow’s Quarter-Final knock-out matches. The decision, however, left Williams enraged and he stormed off with his quest to become ISAF Match Racing World Champion for a third time in tatters.
On the water it had been an action-packed day with strong and gusty winds, saw numerous quick-fire penalties, breakdowns and collisions that brought spectators off their seats. The tone was set from the start with Williams pinned between the start boat and Minoprio’s vessel, eventually colliding with both and earning Williams a double penalty. That’s a costly manoeuvre in the long-keel International One Designs raced here and the British skipper never recovered. See the play of the day at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqRAHM6aI10
With next to no room for error in the Qualifying Play-Offs, every skipper had to be on their game. Like Minoprio, Ainslie displayed a ruthless yet tactical edge in each of his matches. Having clawed back a three-length deficit against Alvaro Marinho (POR) SETH Sailing Team, Ainslie jostled with the Portuguese skipper, exchanging a string of penalties before the Brit landed the final knock-out blow just before the finish line.
With the pressure increasing on Minoprio, Ainslie and Williams, the latter’s match against Robertson became even more crucial. The intensity matched the importance with penalties picked up in the pre-start and on the final beat. Although Robertson finally powered ahead to take the lead seconds before the finish, he didn’t have time to spin his penalty off before Williams took the winner’s flag.
Ainslie vs Minoprio was a monster match that Ainslie needed to win to retain a chance of staying in the competition, while victory for Minoprio would secure him one of the two remaining Quarter-Final places. Minoprio started tight under Ainslie’s leebow, forcing the Brit to tack away to the right of the course. This put them on the best side of the big windshifts to take a four-length lead at the first mark. Minoprio challenged hard to close this to just one length at the finish however he wasn’t able to find an opportunity to get ahead.
Tomorrow sees the racing re-convene and with Minoprio and Ainslie both still in contention, the race to challenge Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team overall lead in the World Match Racing Tour is firmly on.