St. Moritz Match Race – Richard digs deep for quarter final place

Mathieu Richard during the final qualifying round - St Moritz Match Race 2011
Loris von Siebenthal/St Moritz Match Race
St. Moritz Match Race, the sixth stage of the World Match Racing Tour, is being held on Lake St Moritz in the Engadin Valley. The final Qualifying Session was held today, Friday 2nd September.

Mathieu Richard turned his fortune around after digging deep in the final Qualifying Session to book his place in the quarter finals while Championship leader Francesco Bruni failed to qualify for the knock out stages in consecutive World Match Racing Tour events.

There were two key battles to be decided today. The first was to determine whether Williams, Berntsson or Mirsky would qualify directly for the semi finals and the second was all about which teams in the tight chasing pack of Richard, Bruni, Radich, Iehl, Hansen and Morvan, would join them in the knock-out stages. Although the Maloja took some time to arrive on Lake St. Moritz, it was worth the wait.

As the event moved into the very final flight, only a few things had been resolved – Williams held an unassailable lead and occupied that coveted semi final spot while Iehl and Berntsson were both assured of quarter final places.

Overnight, the pressure was all on the defending ‘King of the Mountain’ Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team who needed to win both his remaining races to be sure of a quarter-final berth and some welcome Championship points. He put in a faultless display against Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team, leading from start to finish and followed that up with an equally impressive performance against Jérôme Clerc who never got close enough to the Frenchman to shake off an early penalty.

'We are very happy with the way we sailed today, we knew we had to win those two points and we went out and did it – we got the job done and hopefully that’s enough to see us through to the next round. We need to go and analyse our qualifying matches to see what we need to work on.'

If Richard was feeling the heat, Championship leader Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing was also under an intense spotlight. If Bruni failed to qualify here and Williams finishes third or higher, the Italian would relinquish his Championship lead for the first time since stage three in Korea with just two stages to go.

He was out the blocks fast with a win over Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners however a defeat at the hands of Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team meant Bruni needed a win against his arch rival Williams in the last match of the day to secure his place in the quarter-finals.

Williams wasn’t about to be lenient as there were vital gains to be made in the Championship and he battled hard to come from behind having trailed round the first mark to enjoy a tight victory over Bruni after their first race was abandoned.

Speaking after his race against Williams, Bruni reflected: 'It’s disappointing for us as it’s the second time that we haven’t made it through. He’s sailing well and has had a bit of luck on his side, especially against us. We were leading the first match against him but then it was abandoned.

'We’ve learnt that we need to be strong from the very beginning. Our first day was bad and we really lost it then, you can’t afford to lead in three races that you end up losing. We will now try and fight to the very end. Bermuda will be our last chance to get closer to Ian.'

After a strong start to the event with three consecutive wins, Bjorn Hansen (DEN) Mekonomen Sailing has struggled for consistency, citing a series of poor starts as his Achilles heel. After a defeat against Radich, Hansen really needed to win his last two races to secure a place in the next round.

Unfortunately his Achilles heel reared up, over the line at the start and a penalty too put pay to his chances against Williams. Against Iehl, Hansen held fast to grind out a win in a match where the lead changed several times. The win brought his total to five points but he would rely on Williams versus Bruni – the final match of the final flight - to determine his fate. A Williams win would see him through at the expense of Bruni and so it was.

Hansen now has a chance to turn around an inconsistent season to date in which a first and second has been countered by a tenth, twelfth and eighth. Having reached the quarter finals, Hansen commented: 'We’re happy to go through but it was pure luck. We are eager for a medal at the end of the season and it is vital we get a good result here to be in a position to achieve that.'

The quarter finals will see Johnie Berntsson versus Pierre-Antoine Morvan, Damien Iehl against Bjorn Hansen andTorvar Mirsky take on Mathieu Richard.

Follow all the action from the quarter finals of the St. Moritz Match Race tomorrow on the live blog online with live coverage continuing from 1300 to 1500 local time (GMT +2) also online. A preview of the teams as they prepare will be shown on The WMRT Morning Show with Hannah White on the WMRT website from 1100 local time (GMT +2) and a review of the day on The WMRT Today Show after racing finishes.

Standings after the Third Qualifying Session:
Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar 10-1
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team 7-4
Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team 7-4
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat 7-4
Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Extreme Team Morbihan 6-5
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team 6-5
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team 5-6
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing 5-6
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing 5-6
Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners 4-7
Eric Monnin (SUI) Oklays Corum Sailing Team 3-8
Jérôme Clerc (SUI) Team CER 1-10

ISAF World Match Race Tour 2011 – ranking after five stages:
1 Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing – 81pts
2 Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing – 74pts
3 Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar – 71pts
4 Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners – 59pts
5 Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat – 59pts
6 Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team – 57pts
7 Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team – 57pts
8 Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team – 53pts
9 Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing – 39pts
10 Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team – 34pts

St. Moritz Match Race website
World Match Racing Tour website