World #1 Star class sailors Robert SCHEIDT and Bruno PRADA from Brazil clinched victory at the 2009 Star European Championships after nail-biting final day of the Rolex Baltic Week in Kiel, Germany.
Topping a world-class fleet of 89 boats, Robert SCHEIDT
and Bruno PRADA
(BRA) went into the last day's racing with just a one-point lead over early leaders and Olympic gold medallists Iain PERCY
and Andrew SIMPSON
(GBR). But they extended it to a four-point victory in a dramatic final showdown between these long-standing rivals, with fellow Olympic medallist Fredrik LOOF
and Johan TILLANDER
from Sweden snapping at their heels in third overall tied on points with the Brits. As the top European crew, PERCY and SIMPSON are crowned 2009 European Champions.
In a fresh southwesterly breeze of 18-19 knots, racing got underway at the first attempt with a clean start. The bulk of the pack started close to the favoured committee boat end, with few teams opting for the pin end. Covered by the fleet, the three big guns struggled to get a clear track up the first beat. LOOF came out best, in fifth place, whilst the early lead went to Flemming SÖRENSEN and Niels HANSEN-THRYSØE (DEN), followed by Martin LOVROVIC and Sinis MIKULICIC (CRO) and Johannes POLGAR
and Tim KROGER
(GER). Lars GRAEL (BRA) rounded the first mark a little ahead of LOOF, with PERCY back in 13th.
Overall leader SCHEIDT was initially buried in the pack, approaching the top mark somewhere in the upper 30s or lower 40s. The breeze dropped to 13 knots during the first round, with Xavier ROHART
and Pierre-Alexis PONSOT
(FRA) making gains to climb to fourth. As a new windward mark was set, the breeze picked back up for the second round to 17-18 knots. The Danes were still in the lead at the second top mark, but the Croatian team lost out to first ROHART then POLGAR. Of the podium contenders, LOOF was still in fifth whilst Percy had dropped one place down to 14th and SCHEIDT still failed to make any impression on the race. The downwind finish saw the French team pushing their boat right to the edge in gusts of around 20 knots, surfing the small waves and grabbing the bullet from SÖRENSEN by less than a boatlength. POLGAR and KROEGER celebrated their first podium finish in third with LOOF and TILLANDER coming 4th.
SCHEIDT and PRADA immediately discarded their 30th place, replacing it with a fourth from earlier in the week. Meanwhile PERCY and SIMPSON were also able to discard their 10th from the day's first race, but were forced to bring a sixth place finish from Wednesday into the calculations. Hence, SCHEIDT and PRADA's overall lead crept up to three points, but with 88 boats at the starting line and the ever-present black flag, it all hung on the final race.
With tensions running high, Race Chairman Christian HAACKE from Berlin promptly started the final race of the Rolex Baltic Week at 13:30 (local time), on a 1.75-nautical mile course with an upwind finish to determine the overall winners. In blustery breezes the sun came out for the grand finale.
And what a finale it was, with all three podium contenders separated by less than two boat lengths at the final gun. An easing breeze made for an ultra-tense final lap, with both PERCY and LOOF able to creep through the leading group. Overall leaders SCHEIDT and PRADA opted to cover PERCY and SIMPSON in defence of the overall title, letting LOOF and the German team of Johannes BABENDERERDE
and Timo JACOBS
Whilst the Olympians duelled for position, at the finish it was BABENDERERDE and JACOBS who took a popular home win, whilst just half a boatlength behind them came LOOF and TILLANDER in second. Crucially in third place were SCHEIDT and PRADA, who managed to hold off closest rivals PERCY and SIMPSON by just half a boatlength, who were overlapped in fourth.
This gave SCHEIDT and PRADA the 2009 Star European Championships, and the Rolex Baltic Week prizes of two Rolex Submariner Date timepieces, with 18 points, including no fewer than three race wins. An exhilarated SCHEIDT said afterwards, "What a day... tough and great racing again out there. We missed a big shift to the right in the first race and never came back. We needed to wash our minds free from that one before we went into the last. And we started well, sailed fast and clever, leading and controlling the fleet halfway up the final beat. Then the wind died and we saw PERCY and LOOF firing along the course coming closer and closer. It was hard to decide whom we should cover. We kept closer to PERCY than LOOF and managed to stay ahead of the Brits, with LOOF and the great young German guys passing us. We are so happy to win this tough regatta and proud to receive the watches [Rolex Submariner Date timepieces]."
Tied on 22 points overall are PERCY and SIMPSON, and LOOF and TILLANDER, with the Brits just taking second, and the European crown, on countback. A disappointed PERCY said, "We sailed badly again on the last day especially on the wind shifts. We didn't deserve the title this time."
And third-placed LOOF commented: "I'm pretty happy about our performance coming here with a new crew mate, although we missed the top of the podium [it was] quite tight."
Behind the top three were more than 40 points between LOOF and TILLANDER and the next crews, LOOF explained, "The three top scorers pushed each other very hard and that might make the difference to the rest of the fleet. We've trained with SCHEIDT at the beginning of the season and we all had a big benefit from this. They are a bit faster upwind I think and we have an advantage downwind."
LOOF also praised the organizers of Rolex Baltic Week, saying, "The Rolex Baltic Week was a great regatta on the water and on shore. Close racing and fabulous social events. Thanks to the organizers."
For many of the leading Star contenders the battle now continues, with the World Championships in Sweden next month. LOOF added, "We are looking forward to the Worlds in two weeks time from now in Swedish home waters off Varberg. I know this area very well and hope for revenge there!"
Brits PERCY and SIMPSON will not be taking part in the re-match however, as crew Andrew SIMPSON has an important wedding to attend - his own! "We came here because of the ongoing legal action the America's Cup and no racing there,"
explained PERCY. "We have a quiet season and will not going to the Worlds in Sweden because Andrew will celebrate his marriage."
In fourth overall at the Rolex Baltic Week was the consistent duo of Flavio MARAZZI
and Enrico DE MARIA
(SUI). The final race winners BABENDERERDE and JACOBS finished top German team in fifth beaten by not more than half a point, with team mates Robert STANJEK
and Markus KOY
(GER) in sixth. Mark MENDELBLATT
and Mark STRUBE
(USA) took seventh, with double race winners ROHART and PONSOT in eighth. Hamish PEPPER
and Craig MONK
(NZL) finished ninth overall, with Diego NEGRI
and Giovanni STILO
(ITA) rounding off the top 10.
Results - click here