Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia - Britain's Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN has won his first ISAF Match Racing World Championship title by winning the Monsoon Cup on a day of high drama in Malaysia. The three-time Olympic gold medalist was in imperious form at the deciding regatta having staged a stunning late season charge to snatch the title from the clutches of long time series leader Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team.
In what was the most enthralling ever finish to the World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) the Ainslie v Richard duel went to the very final day of the final event of the season. Having turned the screws on Richard all week, Ainslie knew that if he won his Semi-Final and Richard failed to win his play-off race then the title would be his.
Ainslie's illustrious crew has been in such pressure situations many times before and the experience clearly showed. Their 2-0 victory over Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team sparked celebrations among the TEAMORIGIN crew, which includes two-time Olympic gold medalist Iain Percy, Christian Kamp, Mike Mottl and Matt Cornwell.
With the World title in the bag there was still unfinished business with the Tour's richest final at stake. Ainslie and his crew kept their composure for an epic final against Australian star Torvar Mirsky of Mirsky Racing Team. The confident young skipper reached the final with consummate ease, defeating Jesper Radich (DEN) Gaastra Racing 2-0 in their Semi-Final.
It was a fitting finale to an enthralling 2010 World Match Racing Tour, with nail-biting match racing that went to the wire: Mirsky recovered from a shaky start to take the first race by a comfortable margin. But Ainslie was 11 seconds ahead at the finish of the second. After four races the score was again even, leaving everything hanging on the fifth, which went in Ainslie's favour.
Commenting on his landmark victory, Ainslie said: "It was obviously a great way for us to end as a team. It was very tough out there today but it was a united effort and we’re really happy all round. For the whole team this has been massive for us. We've enjoyed been on the Tour an incredible amount."
For Richard it was a disappointing end to what had been a fantastic season in which he led the Tour from the opening race at Match Race France in April. Two further wins followed at the Korea Match Cup and the St Moritz Match Race. However a mid-season blip and a stuttering finish to the year with poor performances in Bermuda and then finally Malaysia have cost Richard dearly, leaving him in second place in the Championship.
Richard reflected: "Obviously it’s a huge disappointment to have finished second in the Championship, having been first all season. Ben has a very strong team and they really deserve to be World Champions. I was happy with our preparation for this event and we sailed a fantastic season, making the podium five times. It’s a year we can be really proud of."
A stellar season
The tone for the stellar season was set back in April at Match Race France when the two Championship contenders locked horns in a tense final. It was the Frenchman who landed the first blow of the season, winning his home title and setting the early pace in the race for the Championship.
Richard continued his excellent form to build a formidable lead in the Championship. The Frenchman followed up victory in his home country with a third place at Match Race Germany before going on to land his second win of the year at the Korea Match Cup, beating Britain’s two-time World Champion Ian Williams, Team GAC Pindar.
It was an impressive start, however the Championship is based on skippers’ five best Tour results, plus their Monsoon Cup points – so he needed to keep his momentum. It was at the next stage at the Portimao Portugal Match Cup that the Frenchman then showed his first signs of weakness with a poor result, managing only seventh.
It was this juncture that Ben Ainslie really upped his game started his in a bid to realise his title ambitions. The Englishman made his intentions clear by beating former Tour Champion Jesper Radich in the final while Richard’s mid-season malaise continued with another seventh place.
As the Tour moved on to the stunning mountains of St Moritz, the Frenchman bounced right back to form, winning the event with a key victory over Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing, while Ainslie had to settle for fourth. With Ainslie having lost ground in the mountains, his title hopes took a major body blow in Denmark when the Englishman suffered his worst result of the season with his own seventh place finish.
Ainslie’s mind may well have been elsewhere at the Danish Open as the event coincided with the deliberations as to whether his TEAMORIGIN would pull out of the running for the America’s Cup. However, having regained his focus, Ainslie hit straight back at the next regatta in Bermuda. Reflecting on that period of the Tour, Ainslie said: "Denmark was one of those events at which nothing seemed to work for us, but we’ve always liked Bermuda – both for the boats and the venue – and were looking forward to doing well there."
The island has been a happy hunting ground for the 33 year-old who won his second consecutive Argo Group Gold Cup to propel himself back into the reckoning with just the Monsoon Cup to go.
With the chips down and knowing that nothing but success would do Ainslie has once again proved why he is one of sailing's most decorated skippers. With the WMRT trophy joining the multitude of accolades in Ainslie's bulging trophy cabinet the Monsoon Cup brings down the curtain on another fantastic season for the World Match Racing Tour.
Final World Match Racing Tour Standings:
1. Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN 126
2. Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team 111
3. Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team 106
4. Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing 90
5. Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar 87
6. Jesper Radich (DEN) Gaastra Racing Team 82
7. Francesco Bruni (ITA) Azzurra 65
8. Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing 60
9. Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team 45
10. Magnus Holmberg (SWE) Victory Challenge 29
Final Monsoon Cup placings:
1. Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN
2. Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team
3. Jesper Radich (DEN) Gaastra Racing Team
4. Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team
5. Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar
6. Francesco Bruni (ITA) Azzurra
7. Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing
8. Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team