Damien Iehl and his French Match Racing Team made the perfect start to their World Match Racing Tour season after defeating Bertrand Pace Aleph Sailing Team in an all French Final at Match Race France.
This was Damien Iehl
's second ever victory on the World Match Racing Tour following his win at Match Race Germany in 2008 and his early justification for being awarded a Tour Card for the 2011 season. The victory caps a week in which the Frenchman has been in majestic form, firstly by Qualifying in second position, then defeating the 2003 Tour Champion Jesper Radich
(DEN) 3-1 in the Semi-Finals and finally Bertrand Pacé
in the first all French Final on the Tour since 2007.
Commenting on his win, Iehl said:"It has been a tense week but to win the event here is perfect. It's a reward for all the hard work we've been doing over the last six years. We feel it's our time now. We know Mathieu [Richard] won Match Race France last year but didn't win the Tour so winning it is our objective now."
With 40 knots of Mistral winds forecast for Sunday, the Race Committee was keen to conclude Match Race France on Saturday and therefore decided to make it a first to two point final. Iehl's big strategy for the week had been to protect the left side of the course and he was in no mood to change it now, resulting in some heavy pre-start jostling against Pace's Aleph Sailing Team
. As the boats came together in the pre-start, Pace, as the windward boat, picked up a penalty for not keeping clear. The 2000 Tour Champion and America's Cup veteran managed to strike up a 10 second lead at the first mark but knew he needed around 25 seconds in the conditions and J80 boats to complete his penalty. On the final beat, Pace hadn't opened up enough of a margin so he was forced to do it the hard way and try to force a foul on Iehl to offset the penalty. Pace slowed his boat as much as possible to lure Iehl into a trap but Iehl was more than a match, slowing his boat and parrying every move Pace made. In the end Pace overshot his turn back to the finish line and ended up tacking in front of Iehl incurring a second penalty. It was showpiece match racing. 1-0.
Pace was in a must-win situation and as the second race approached, the winds were shifting which made the teams' timings to the start line difficult to calculate. Iehl again tried to protect the left by putting pre-start pressure on Pace who was forced to gybe away. Iehl grabbed the left and created a three length separation as both teams hiked hard with gusts rising to 15 knots. As they approach the first mark, Pace trailed Iehl by 11 seconds, a gap that increased after a messy spinnaker hoist from Pace's team. It was a deficit too big to close leaving Iehl to take the honours in typically animated fashion as he crossed the finish line. On reflection, Pace said: "I would've liked to win it as it's not easy to get into this position. But, we're very happy as we worked well as a team.
Jesper Radich's opponent in the Petit-Final was Torvar Mirsky
(AUS) The Wave Muscat, who forced Pace into a sudden death race in their Semi-Final earlier. It was little surprise to see this Petit-Final also go down to a deciding race - their form was so good, many expected at least one of them to contend the Final. Mirsky took control of the decider from the start and lead Radich round the course, building up an unassailable 18 second lead by the third mark. It was a strong start to the season for Mirsky and his team who are tracking that elusive event win they last achieved back in 2009 and ultimately realise their dream of winning the World Championship.
Damien Iehl's French Match Racing Team mate Mathieu Richard won Match Race France in 2010. He is earmarked as one of the favourites to contend for the Match Racing World Championship in 2011 however he might now need to look closer to home for his nearest rival.
The World Match Racing Tour travels to Lake Constance in Langenargen for Match Race Germany from the 24 - 29 May where Tour Card Holders Mathieu Richard and Johnie Berntsson will start their 2011 match racing campaigns.
Results from Match Race France
(FRA) v Bertrand Pacé
(AUS) v Jesper Radich
2011 ISAF World Match Racing Tour Standings (After Stage 1)
1 Damien Iehl
(FRA) French Match Racing Team- 25pts
2 Bertrand Pacé
(FRA) Aleph Sailing Team - 22pts
3 Torvar Mirsky
(AUS) The Wave Muscat- 19pts
4 Jesper Radich
(DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners - 16pts
5 Pierre-Antoine Morvan
(FRA) Extreme Team Morbihan - 14pts
6 Francesco Bruni
(ITA) Mascalzone Latino - 12pts
7 Peter Gilmour
(AUS) YANMAR Racing - 10pts
8 Álvaro Marinho
(POR) Seth Sailing Team - 8pts
9 Phil Robertson
(NZL) WAKA Racing Team - 4pts
10 Ian Williams
(GBR) Team GAC Pindar - 2pts
World Match Racing Tour Website