Frenchman Damien Iehl and the Portugese wildcard Alvaro Marinho put in sublime performances on the opening day of the 2011 World Match Racing Tour at Match Race France to top the scoreboard and close in on a place in the Quarter-Finals.
Throughout the pre-season, Damien Iehl
expressed his determination to prove himself amongst the world's elite match racers and he more than backed that up in the first Qualifying Session. In his first match against Ian Williams
(GBR) Team GAC Pindar, Iehl won what proved to be every team's favoured side (the left). He was in complete control as the boats headed down the first run building an unassailable eight length lead.
Amongst both Iehl and Marinho's victims was fellow Frenchman Pierre-Antoine Morvan
(FRA) Extreme Team Morbihan, a man who grabbed the headlines in the morning with victories against three Tour Card Holders tipped as title contenders - Williams, Francesco Bruni
(ITA) Mascalzone Latino and Jesper Radich
(DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners Racing Team. A defeat for Iehl against Peter Gilmour
(AUS) YANMAR Racing and against Bruni for Marinho were to be the only blemishes on their 5-1 scorelines.
Commenting on his performance, Iehl said, "It was a perfect day today - we're just one point away from the Quarter-Finals. We hope to race the same way tomorrow but we'll take it one race after the other. We worked a lot this winter and we're happy to be Tour Card Holders which brushes off some of the pressure. It's good to strategise... but the story says that when you're strong at the beginning you don't pass the Quarter-Finals so we need to be careful."
An elated Álvaro Marinho
(POR) Seth Sailing Team, added, "I can say this is our best day on the World Match Racing Tour. We need to keep [this up]. We are one of the less experienced crew here but to have a couple of nice wins against those guys is rewarding."
There is still all to play for between the other Tour Card Holders here competing amongst the 12-strong competition. The likes of Torvar Mirsky
(AUS) The Wave Muscat, Gilmour, Williams, Phil Robertson
(NZL) WAKA Racing and Radich are all bunched together each needing around 3 wins to make it through the Quarter - Finals.
The Race Committee continued to pack flights in knowing the Mistral is expected on Sunday and as Radich anticipated, the pre-starts proved critical throughout the day. For Gilmour they plagued him - hitting the pin against Pace was just one of a handful of pre-start penalties he picked up which defined a day of frustration for the four-time World Champion.
A skipper hoping for a rich vein of form in the Second Qualifying session is a dejected Bjorn Hansen
(SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team who posted a scoreline of 0-6. A combination of missed opportunities and decisions that could but didn't go their way has all but eliminated them from the regatta. The dismasting his team endured in practice is proving to be a bad omen.
"We hopefully had the worst day of the season today,"
reflected Hansen. "We definitely have to shape up. In the last few races we learnt how to trim the boat better, get more speed and place the crew weight better. There is no problem with the boat because we won a regatta in November in the same boat [J80]. It felt as if we were doing this for the first time in our life."
All the Tour Card Holders felt they had something to prove on the Tour this year. After Qualifying Session 1 they still have an opportunity to do just that as there's all still all to play for at Match Race France.
Standings After First Qualifying Session:
(FRA) French Match Racing Team 5-1
(POR) Seth Sailing Team 5-1
(ITA) Mascalzone Latino 4-2
(FRA) Aleph Sailing Team 4-1
(NZL) WAKA Racing Team 3-3
(AUS) YANMAR Racing 3-4
(FRA) Extreme Team Morbihan 3-4
(AUS) The Wave Muscat 2-2
(GBR) Team GAC Pindar 2-3
(DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners 2-4
(FRA) Savoie Mont Blanc 1-3