Saturday, December 04, 2010

Ainslie Beats Richard to Take a Step Closer to World Match Racing Champion Title

Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN took control of his battle for the ISAF Match Racing World Championship today by defeating his arch rival Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team in the Quarter-Finals of the Monsoon Cup, the final leg of the tour and is guaranteed to land the title if he goes on to win the regatta.

Ainslie picked the Frenchman for the Quarter-Finals to take his nearest rival for the championship out of contention at the earliest opportunity – a bold move given Richard held the advantage in head-to-heads this season. It was a well calculated risk though.

Ainslie was dominant at the start of their four races, however Richard was in no mood to concede. In the first race the Frenchman quickly closed the gap, but was on the give way port tack and had to duck behind the British skipper. However, in a classic and perfectly executed manoeuvre, Ainslie bore away by the maximum amount allowed by the rules, putting Richard firmly in his sights. The Frenchman didn’t respond and there was a mammoth collision, with the umpires ruling in Ainslie’s favour.

Richard continued to push hard, but couldn’t recover in that race and made an appalling start in the next, being over the line at the gun earning a red flag penalty for a second collision. Yet he maintained impressive composure to slowly claw back Ainslie’s advantage, then rolled past him on the first downwind leg and held the lead to the finish.

Highlights from day 4 of the Monsoon Cup. Kuala Terengganu, 4 December 2010. Video copyright World Match Racing Tout

With the match evenly poised, Ainslie started to turn the screws on Richard in the next two starts. Having gained the lead, he was able to control both races around the course, to win and progress to the Semi-Finals.

Ainslie cannot afford to rest on his laurels though. With Richard managing to squeeze into the Quarter-Finals yesterday by ousting defending champion Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing, the Brit must now finish in either 1st or 2nd place in the Monsoon Cup, depending on how Richard performs in the play-off for 5th to 8th places.

“It was a big deal for us to knock Mathieu out and very important for the overall results for the championship. The conditions were really difficult but the team did a great job - we're very happy to have come through it. We still have a lot of work to do - the Semi-Finals are going to be another big battle, whoever we pick to race”, reflected Ainslie.

While Ainslie got his choice of opponent spot on, Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar will rue his pick. Having reached the Quarter-Finals with an impressive 10-1 scoreline, he opted for event wildcard Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team who, ironically, was the man to inflict the one defeat on the Englishman during the Qualifying Stages.

Williams continued his rich vein of form to take the first race, however it was a false dawn. Hansen rallied his team and within 5 minutes of the start of the second race, he was ahead and never looked back to level the scores. It gave the Swede the impetus he needed and the remaining two races looked almost a formality for him, finishing ahead by some margin in both.

Rising Australian star Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team, was the only other sailor starting the day with a chance of winning the World Championship and produced a masterful display to comprehensively defeat match racing legend Peter Gilmour 3-0, and keep alive his slim hopes of winning the title.

The pair took to the water with Gilmour holding a slight edge over Mirsky with an 8-7 career record. The first match was a tight as the record, with both skippers mustering all their experience to get the advantage. Almost level and both on starboard, Mirsky started to pull away and then stamped his authority on the race by tacking to cross Gilmour before tacking back onto Gilmour’s wind to effectively seal the win.

The photo of the day. Ben Ainslie and Mathieu Richard collide. Kuala Terengganu, 4 December 2010. Photo copyright SubZero Images / World Match Racing Tout

Flight 2 saw Gilmour try to get the upper hand in the dial up by rolling Mirsky to port but it was Mirsky who led Gilmour to the first mark, rounding it 2 lengths clear - a lead he held to the finish.

With Gilmour in desperate need of a win he got off to a strong start, but it was Mirsky who found better pressure on the first beat and rounded the mark 12 seconds ahead. Mirsky held the stronger current on the right hand side of the course extending his lead and take the victory.

The result leaves Mirsky relying on results to fall his way to capture his maiden World Championship. To stand any chance he must win the Monsoon Cup and hope that Richard finishes no higher than 8th and that Ainslie cannot do better than third.

Only one Quarter-Final match went to five races - Jesper Radich (DEN) Gaastra Racing Team vs Francesco Bruni (ITA) Azzurra. In the deciding race they started at opposite ends of the line, with Radich at the buoy. It was the right place to be and the Dane had built an invincible lead by the time he reached the first mark.

Claims that this is the most enthralling climax to the ISAF Match Racing World Championship are proving well justified – this is the first time the race to become World Champion has gone down to the final day of the final event of the Tour.

Quarter-Final results:

Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN 3
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team 1

Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Global Team 3
Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar 1

Jesper Radich (DEN) Gaastra Racing Team 3
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Azzurra 2

Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team 3
Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing 0

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