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10 July 2009, 09:39 pm
Rolex Baltic Week Set For Final Day Showdown For Star Rivals
Brazilians Robert SCHEIDT and Bruno PRADA
Robert SCHEIDT and Bruno PRADA hold a narrow lead going into the final day

Rolex Baltic Week
Kiel, Germany

Robert SCHEIDT and Bruno PRADA hold the narrowest of leads over Olympic Champions Iain PERCY and Andrew SIMPSON with just one day of racing to go at the Star Europeans in Germany.
World #1 Star class sailors Robert SCHEIDT and Bruno PRADA (BRA) may have finished second to Olympic gold medallists Iain PERCY and Andrew SIMPSON (GBR) at the Beijing Games last year, but they are doing everything they can to redress the balance at this year's Rolex Baltic Week. After winning Friday's single race SCHEIDT and PRADA lead PERCY and SIMPSON by just one point in the 2009 European Championships, with fellow Beijing Olympic medallist Fredrik LOOF and his new crew Johan TILLANDER (SWE) a mere four points adrift in fourth.

With unsettled weather of clouds, rain showers, and southwesterly winds gusting up 23 knots on the Kiel Fjord in Germany, Friday's sailing was postponed until early afternoon. Racing finally got underway on the third attempt at around 15:30, the first start having been abandoned due to a major windshift. With a current running behind the fleet for the first time this week, the second start was a general recall - of the 88 competitors, 26 were Black Flagged, whilst the race committee spotted a further 15 or so over the line that couldn't be identified by either bow or sail numbers.

On the third attempt racing began in a shifty southwesterly of around 14-18 knots, on a two-lap windward-leeward course with a final upwind finish. Many of the dominant players were back in the pack for the first lap, with Flemming SØRENSEN and Niels HANSEN-THRYSØE (DEN) getting the best start to lead around the top mark from Lars GRAEL and Ronald SEIFERT (BRA) and Diego NEGRI and Giovanni STILO (ITA) in third.

In an upset to the previous form, SCHEIDT and PRADA found themselves back in 12th for the first lap, with PERCY and SIMPSON around 16th, while LOOF and TILLANDER rounded the top mark in 29th position. On the shifty racecourse the top mark was changed to a bearing of around 270 degrees.

However, this Olympic trio's experience and determination saw them fight their way back into contention, showing phenomenal boat speed. PERCY and SIMPSON leapfrogged their way back up the fleet throughout the second round, pulling ahead at one stage on the downwind leg, but SCHEIDT and PRADA chose the better tactical options, taking the right-hand gate on the second downwind leg to secure the gun at the end.

Together with NEGRI and STILO, who climbed one place to second, PERCY and SIMPSON opted to go left at the final bottom mark, finishing in third. Fourth went to Hamish PEPPER and Craig MONK (NZL). LOOF too had pulled off some impressive place gains to finish in fifth position, with sixth going to George SZABO and Rick PETERS (USA), a first top-10 position for them.

PERCY said, "It was very hard racing. We made a big mistake on the second run when we chose the wrong mark of the gate. SCHEIDT rounded the right mark and we took the left together with NEGRI. Immediately he overtook both of us. There was so much going on on that run that we simply missed making the right call. It's a matter of practice, since we haven't sailed for eight months."

Today's remarkable display leaves SCHEIDT and PRADA in first place overall on 11 points, with PERCY and SIMPSON just one point back in second - could the scene be set for a final day match race between the two rivals? PERCY wouldn't be drawn on Saturday's tactics, saying, "We'll see whether the last day brings one or two races. If only one gets underway it's up to SCHEIDT to decide whether he wants to try to cover us or not. I think we don't need to be anxious about this because we have the best experience in match racing from the America's Cup and other regattas."

SCHEIDT added, "We managed to round the first mark in 12th position, although it was a very tricky beat. After this we worked our way through the fleet with good speed and looking for the shifts and puffs. We got nearly all of them right, but PERCY sailed smart too. He overtook us on the second run when he gybed early, but good for us he went to the left gate mark. We'll see what's gonna happen on Saturday but we'll keep an eye on them that's for sure!"

Third overall are LOOF and TILLANDER on 16 points. The Swedish pairing are far from out of contention, LOOF commenting, "We started on the left side of the line and headed to the left when we got punished by a 30-degree right shift. Coming from 29th at the top mark and finishing fifth is not bad although our direct opponents did better. From the first mark to the finish we gained more than 150 metres on PERCY, which indicates we were not slow. Maybe we will have an advantage being out of the duel at the top of the fleet."

The US crew of Mark MENDELBLATT and Mark STRUBE have moved into fourth on 36 points. First German crew overall is Robert STANJEK and Markus KOY in fifth, followed by Flavio MARAZZI and Enrico DE MARIA (SUI) in sixth, then fellow home team Johannes BABENDERERDE and Timo JACOBS (GER) in seventh. Three top-10 finishes leave PEPPER and MONK in eighth, although they have a 89th (BFD) to discard, while ninth is Xavier ROHART and Pierre-Alexis PONSOT (FRA), Black Flagged on Friday, and 10th Nicola CELON and Edoardo NATUCCI (ITA).

Racing concludes on Saturday - the race committee reports that they hope to run two further races although fresh to strong breezes are once again forecasted. The first warning signal is scheduled for 11:00 local time, with the last possible start at 14:05.

Results - click here

Andreas Kling
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