Leading the pack is ISAF-ranked world #1 Sébastien COL (FRA) and his French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge crew, up against the lowest ISAF-ranked team headed by Ed BAIRD (USA) and his Alinghi crew. Not only did COL finish second in last year's Tour, but he is a native to Marseille and accustomed to its potentially challenging conditions, so he will be a formidable opponent to the America's Cup champion skipper, who at an ISAF World Ranking of #122 has been off the Tour for several years honing his skills in International America's Cup Class competition.
Nonetheless, BAIRD is looking forward to tomorrow's match against the French.
"I'm really excited to be back on the Tour," said BAIRD. "We had a great practice day yesterday, it was great to be in the small boats again," referring to the 8.0-metre ling J/80's used in this event. "We were fortunate to sail in a good variety of conditions and spar against Ian WILLIAMS and his team in some starts and short races. Even though it's been a while since we've been on Tour, and the level of the game has moved on some, I feel we were getting up to speed nicely."
Ian WILLIAMS (GBR) and his Bahrain Team Pindar are reigning World Champions, though currently ranked #2 in the ISAF Rankings. Having won this title twice, a repeat of his Tour win this year would yield an unprecedented third World Championship crown.
"We are looking forward to getting back on the water and racing regularly again," said WILLIAMS. "The crew is in great shape and we are ready to give it our all in 2009 to retain the world title and make it a hat-trick. We are pleased to see Alinghi and so many of the other America's Cup sailors competing on the World Tour this year. We are looking for a good first result here in Marseille, but we will no doubt face some tough resistance, particularly from the French guys, who have been training hard in the event boats."
Stage one round robin racing will commence at 10:00, with courses set in the small bay just north of the YCPR within metres of the 8th Arrondissmont shoreline spectators along the beach, quay and promenade. Competition will continue through Sunday 15 March, with a total prize money purse of €50,000 and valuable points earned on the World Match Racing Tour ranking list.
ISAF Match Racing World Championship - www.sailing.org/matchworlds
For more information in the Marseille International Match Race, visit the event website at www.ycpr.com.
And for more information on the 2009 World Match Racing Tour, visit the Tour website at www.worldmatchracingtour.com.