Reigning ISAF Match Racing World Champion Ian Williams overcame a spirited performance by young Kiwi William Tiller and torrential conditions to win the Final of Match Race France. It was Williams' fourth podium finish in five events this season which propels his GAC Pindar team to the top of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour (AWMRT) standings as the Tour heads into its penultimate event next week.
Williams arrived in the Final off the back of a hard-fought Semi-Final victory against Keith Swinton. Light conditions delayed the race start, eventually forcing the Race Committee to shorten the Final to a 'first to two points' format. When the breeze finally kicked in for the first match, Williams' team had clearly recovered from their epic Semi-Final, winning the start and gaining an almost immediate two boat length lead up to the first windward mark. From there on, Williams' team closed the door on Tiller, maintaining enough of a lead to not get sucked into a tactical battle. 1-0 and Tiller was already facing sudden death.
Tiller regrouped for the next match, the rain now beating down and the wind constantly picking up. Despite another poor start, a spirited Tiller managed to edge a lead over Williams round the first lap. Williams was not about to let this one slip though, and ground Tillers lead down on the second windward leg to round the final mark a boat length ahead. On the final downwind, Tiller had to attack but Williams' boat speed, helped by some hard hiking from his crew, carried him to the line to take the victory by just over a boat length.
"We're super happy to get the win,"
said Williams. "It was one of those days where everything was changing very, very fast, especially the wind shifts. We got a few more of the important things right than he did today. In those conditions, if you can't concentrate on the details, you need to get the big stuff right. It was good for us that we didn't have to go out and win another one but I think we would have if we'd had to."
Asked if it was a 'perfect win', Williams said, "Not quite. We could have been dry. That would have been perfect!
"That win has put us firmly in the hunt now and that's what we wanted. Every year it seems the guy that gets the early lead in the Tour tends to drop out towards the end. One year we had a 30 point lead and ended up going to Malaysia in 2nd place. Same for [Francesco] Bruni last year and this year it's happened to Bjorn [Hansen]. He had a strong lead but dropped off his form in the last two regattas. It'll be interesting to see who else is in the mix in December but you suspect whoever wins between us and Bjorn's team in Malaysia will take the season title."
It was Tiller's first Tour Final which left the defeated Kiwi with mixed emotions, "We were happy to make it to the Final but disappointed not to make more of it. We felt we got things together as the week progressed but couldn't keep it going into the Final.
"Well done to Ian and his team. He got two good starts and, although we took the lead in the second race, we made a few errors to let him back into it. Trailing in the second match of a first to two point Final, you'd like another chance but the conditions dictated otherwise.
"We'll look to take this form into Bermuda where we'll have another shot at beating Ian."
In the day's Petit Final, the winner of the previous stage at the St. Moritz Match Race, Keith Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing, went up against Laurie Jury (NZL) Kiwi Match in a first to one point format.
Jury carried a penalty from pre-start but lead throughout the encounter and elected to take his turn as he approached the top mark for a second time. A slight mistake was all Swinton needed to pass his opponent and hoist his spinnaker for the final downwind, taking a comfortable victory.
After taking third place and 19 Championship points which have pushed him up to 3rd place in the overall standings, Swinton said, "Those were tricky conditions but we managed to put the early pressure on with a penalty. We took the lead on the downwind and once we were ahead, we pushed on.
"We're pretty happy with third and I think it's well deserved. We pushed Ian [Williams] hard in the Semis and were maybe unlucky not to get to the Final."
As for Jury, he felt the defeat was much his team's own fault, "We're obviously disappointed but more so because we kept making stupid mistakes. We decided to go left only to find the right was paying more and then the penalty in the pre-start. It is what it is, we can't change anything now. We have sailed well this week but we've got some bits to work on."
The Argo Group Gold Cup gets underway in Hamilton Harbour, Bermuda next week with the first Qualifying Session taking place on Tuesday 2 October.