In hard-fought 2-1 Final, young Kiwi team takes their first-ever Tour win
Marseille, France – After a long day that had it all – starting with long delays with no wind, then light and shifty conditions, and ending with a building breeze and waves – 24-year old Adam Minoprio (NZL) and his Emirates Team New Zealand/BlackMatch Racing team of David Swete, Tom Powrie, and Dan McLean have won the Marseille International Match Race, the first event of the 2009 World Match Racing Tour. After two years of trying, this is Minoprio’s first-ever victory on the Tour, for which he and his team earn 10000 € of the 50000 € purse and 25 points on the Tour leader board.
In true understated Kiwi style, Minoprio was modest in expressing his pleasure about the win, saying “We got two seconds last year, and to finally break the curse and earn a win here is great.”
Minoprio had two formidable French obstacles on his path to victory today, starting with Damien Iehl and his French Match Racing Team, who he met in the Semi-Finals. But the series did not start off well, as the Kiwis misjudged the start and were caught over the line early at the gun. Unfazed, Minoprio and team kept their focus in the light and shifty conditions to find a little advantage on the right side of the course and gain back enough to pass Iehl in the middle of the first windward leg.
Showing great composure rather than just reactionary covering tactics, the Kiwis let Iehl take the right while they sailed into a little more pressure they saw to the left, and promptly extended their one length lead to three. It was never less than this for the remainder of this first match.
As the weak sea breeze continued to weaken, Minoprio and team once again were behind at the start in the second Semi-Final match, but managed to roll over Iehl just before the bottom mark. The two teams split, the Kiwis left and the French right, but Iehl got stuck in a windless hole, allowing Minoprio to sail in to an insurmountable 8-length lead at the second top mark, and from there it was on to the Finals.
Minoprio was now up against Mathieu Richard and his French Match Racing Team/Team French Spirit, who had just come off a tough 2-1 series of his own against another antipodal young gun – 23-year old Torvar Mirsky (AUS). While the teams switched boats, race managers switched the course around towards a late-building westerly Mistral, bringing with it some choppy wind waves on top of a 1-metre swell.
While Richard is no slouch – he has won several ISAF Grade 1 and World Tour events, and finished as runner-up in the 2007 and 3rd place in the 2008 Tour standings - this change in conditions and increased speed of the boats may have caught him out, since he made an unforced error by being over the starting line early at the gun of the first match. This mistake would cost him dearly, as Minoprio simply kept things close and covered the French to earn their first win.
Now on the ropes in a first-to-two point series, Richard and team turned up the aggression as the breeze built to 15 knots, with both teams throwing their boats at each other with yankee flags flying, providing an impressive show for the hundreds of assembled spectators on the beach just north of Pointe Rouge. But match umpires Alfredo Ricci and Marco Mercuriali remained unconvinced of any fouls, so all their flags remained green and white with no penalties.
Controlling the Kiwis up to the final approach to start, Richard forced Minoprio to do two quick tacks – this cost him too much speed to let his lee bow position have any effect, so the French were able to take and extend their lead to the finish and tie the series 1-1.
As the breeze started dying, and shifted even further right with the setting sun, starboard tack became difficult as the boats slammed head-on into waves often bigger than the wind. This put a premium on proper gear-shifting, and Minoprio and team did this well when it counted. After taking early control off the line to leeward of Richard at the start they simply extended away from the French to take and early lead and never looked back.
Meanwhile in Petite-Final action, Mirsky avenged his loss to Richard in the Semi’s by defeating Iehl in straight matches 2-0.
Appropriate to this beautiful setting on the Mediterranean coast, organizers from the YC Pointe Rouge at the prize giving ceremony awarded Minoprio not only his prize money cheque for 10000 €, but also his 85 kg weight equivalent in bottles of Chateau La Coste Coteaux L’Aix-en-Provence wine!