LEROY was delighted with her success: 'It was a great event although a little cold for us, but we felt we had a good race. The committee made a good course and we really enjoyed it, my team also did a great job. There is a new opponent for us in GIBSON, and she did really well, and I think we will see her soon at a high level of match racing.'
The final qualifying weekend attracted many top female keelboat sailors, including Athens Olympic gold medallist Sarah AYTON (GBR), who joined the line-up to get her first taste of match racing. The Yngling specialist, unranked in the ISAF Match Racing Rankings, was hoping to use her experience of the reservoir, as a Queen Mary Sailing Club member, when facing the two top-ten ISAF Match Racers - world number two, Claire LEROY and world number eight, Klaartje ZUIDERBAAN (NED).
The round robin stage of the competition started on Saturday in light but variable winds. The top two seeds, LEROY and ZUIDERBAAN, dominated the opening round robin, both winning seven out of the eight races. Clearly in a league of their own, LEROY took first place and ZUIDERBAAN second, in line with their positions in the ISAF Match Racing Rankings. Sarah AYTON's first experience of match racing proved to be a tough one, coming in ninth with no wins.
Fellow British sailor Josie GIBSON, ranked 77 in the world, put in a good performance, especially on the Sunday morning in the freezing northerly winds and snow flurries, to go through to the next round in third place with six wins and two losses in front of Sandy HAYES (USA), ranked 17 in the world, who took up fourth position with five wins.
For the first time in the JPMorgan Fleming Winter Challenge the mainsails had to be reefed on Sunday and the semi-finals took place without the use of spinnakers due to high wind conditions.
GIBSON raced against the highly ranked ZUIDERBAAN for a place in the final and this turned out to be the biggest upset of the weekend. ZUIDERBAAN, who put in such a convincing performance in the round robin, could not match GIBSON and was beaten two races to nil. The second semi-final saw HAYES and LEROY race, but this time there was no shock result with the round robin leader winning both races.
The petit-final for third and fourth place saw ZUIDERBAAN beat HAYES two races to nil to round off the weekend's racing and allow all of the teams to warm up following such a cold race weekend.
The overall final between GIBSON and LEROY saw a drop in the wind strength which allowed the competitors to race with their spinnakers, although the mainsail reefs stayed put. The weather played a huge part in the race with snow coming down and large shifts in the wind with the first race having to be abandoned and re-started. GIBSON fought hard in the pre-start, but the experience of LEROY and her team was evident and she beat GIBSON two races to nil, to win the seventh JPMorgan Fleming Winter Challenge weekend and the last place in next weekend's Final.
The Grade 2 JPMorgan Fleming Winter Challenge Final will take place on the 4-6 March at Queen Mary Sailing Club, Sunbury. LEROY will join the other winners from the earlier weekends for a final show down to establish the overall JPMorgan Fleming Winter Challenge winner.
1, Claire LEROY, Dorothee MARTIN, Elodie BERTRAND, Ingrid CERRATO, Morgane GAUTIER (FRA)
2, Josie GIBSON, Vicky LENZ, Sue PARKIN, Dominica LINSEY, Diana SHANKS, (GBR)
3, Klaartje ZUIDERBAAN, Truus VISSIA, Nanda NENGERMAN, Jetske ROODVOETS, Trijntje ZUIDERBAAN, (NED)