The newest event of the ten-stage 2009 World Match Racing Tour will also be its first as 12 teams prepare for next week’s Marseille International Match Race, held over 10-15 March and hosted by the Yachting Club Pointe Rouge (YCPR). The assembled field is one of the strongest yet seen, lured by the opportunity to compete against the best talent in the sport, valuable Tour points earned towards the World Championship, and a piece of the €50,000 prize purse.

“Its only fitting that the first battlefield of the 2009 Tour is here in France, where so many of our competing teams hail from and there is such a rich tradition of excellence in match race sailing,” says Tour Director Craig Mitchell. “But we’re also very pleased to have this first event of the 2009 Tour attract such a strong international field from among non-French teams as well.”

Leading the non-French field will be last year’s Tour winner and reigning World Champion Ian Williams (GBR) and his Bahrain Team Pindar. However, this two-time Tour winner will likely see a strong challenge by local-based Sebastian Col (FRA) and his French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge crew, who not only finished as close runners-up to Williams, but are currently ranked 1st in the ISAF ranking list. These two teams fought throughout the 2008 season for supremacy in the Tour standings, with Col winning two events (Korea Match Cup and Portugal Match Cup) and Williams winning (Danish Open), so both will be hungry to get an early jump in the standings by earning 25 Tour points for a win in Marseille.

But the path to the top will not be easy for Williams and Col, as several other Tour regulars will be on hand who also scored wins in last year’s events, as well as a formidable newcomer making his Tour debut. Topping this list would have to be Mathieu Richard (FRA) and his French Match Racing Team/French Spirit, who finished third in the Tour last year and currently ranks also 3rd on the ISAF Ranking List. Richard is the reigning champion of this event, so he and his team will feel well-tuned to the conditions and the new 8.0-metre-long J/80 class yachts used in the competition.

Other teams coming to Marseille off strong top-ten results in the 2008 Tour season include ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing’s Adam Minoprio (NZL), Paolo Cian (ITA) and his Team Shosholoza, Torvar Mirsky (AUS) and his Mirsky Racing Team, and Team Onboard’s Bjorn Hansen (SWE). Like Williams, Col, Richard, Minoprio,  Cian and Mirsky have also earned Tour card invitations for this season  and have achieved at least runner-up performances in last year’s Tour events. In fact, Cian’s win in the 2008 season opener at the Brasil Sailing Cup demonstrates his ability to make a strong start to the season.

The most recent team to receive a Tour Card did not make an appearance last year, but has shown a strong record in past years as a World Champion and is the winning America’s Cup skipper. Making Marseille his first event on the 09 Tour, Ed Baird (USA) and his Team Alinghi bring a potentially potent new element to the competition, having been not only a veteran of many past Tour seasons but also displaying tremendous ability in winning what was widely recognized as one of the most competitive America’s Cup competitions ever in 2007.

Rounding out the field of twelve teams are Damien Iehl (FRA) and Phillippe Presti (FRA) who are also members of the French Match Racing Team, and Pierre Antoine Morvan (FRA) and Ian Ainslie (RSA), who were the winner and runner-up, respectively, in the ISAF Grade 3 Y’s Cup qualifier event. Iehl competed in four Tour events last year, winning the second stage at Match Race Germany, Morvan sailed in two, Presti in one, and this will be Ainslie’s second Tour event.

“We’re proud to offer championship races to our competitors, and this first French stop in the World Tour is the logical follow up on work that has been accomplished for years,” said Christian Thommasini, President of the YCPR. “It’s a tribute to all our hard working volunteers invested in our club, sailing, and Marseille. Our direct access to the southern bay and proximity to the cornice are definitely to our advantage in offering the highest level conditions to sportsmen and the population of Marseille.”

“Welcoming this competition opens up real possibilities for the city of Marseille, and gives us credibility among the French cities able to organize large events,” said Didier Reault, Official Municipal Delegate for the MIMR. “It only adds to the fact that Sebastian Col, ranked as 1st in the world in this discipline is a registered member of the

YCPR. The city is proud to count him amongst the great names of sports in Marseille.”