Hamilton, Bermuda - Everyone knows it but no one is saying it - that sums up the atmosphere on the waters of Hamilton Harbour on Practice Day of Argo Group Gold Cup. Five of the 22 teams competing in Bermuda all still have a chance of snatching the overall ISAF Match Racing World Championship. Their skippers have been playing down the challenges which await them in a bid to deflect any additional pressure.
Current overall Tour leader Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team holds a 17-point advantage over his nearest rival Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing, however with the Championship decided by each team’s five best scores across the first eight events, plus the Monsoon Cup at the end the the series, he can only increase his overall score with a first or second place. The week’s headline could well come from second-placed Minoprio, who starts the event counting a sixth place among his five best scores meaning a better result will close the gap on Richard. If Minoprio wins and Richard is third or lower, both will go into the season’s finale, the Monsoon Cup, equal on points.
Stepping ashore after this morning’s practice session, Richard appeared relaxed and jovial, saying: “We’ve just been out to get a feel of the boats and practice the timing of our starts. The conditions out there are great and we’re feeling confident about this event.”
If Richard is only looking over his shoulder at Minoprio this week, he could be accused of being short sighted. Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team is snapping at the leaders’ heels, standing just 12 points behind Minoprio. He is acutely aware though that his team needs a top three finish to increase his overall score and starts tomorrow’s series of races without his usual tactician, Kyle Langford. Undeterred, Mirsky commented: “These boats have different characteristics [to the ones we usually sail], but that won’t change our strategy or tactics.”
The plot thickens yet further when the British teams, including last year’s Argo Group Gold Cup winner, Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN, are figured in the equation. The triple Olympic Gold medalist is currently placed fifth overall in the WMRT standings and with only four events under his belt this season including a disappointing seventh place at the Danish Open, he is certain to make a siege on the scoreboard in the final two events. Meanwhile, former double world champion Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar, Sponsored by Argo Group, is just four points behind Mirsky in fourth position. He’s currently counting two fifth places in the tour, so is well placed to close the gap on the young Australian team ahead of the Monsoon Cup: “Effectively, we’re roughly even with Ben and a bit behind Torvar. It’s still technically possible for us to get ahead but we rely on Mathieu messing up both here and at the Monsoon Cup.”
The British teams may not be banking on the French skipper posting a poor result here however history suggests he does not have the focus to close out the season. He has a consistently disappointing late season track record since 2007 when he last won the Argo Group Gold Cup – in 2009, he was sixth in Bermuda and fifth in the Monsoon Cup which left him and his team’s earlier hopes of winning the Championship in tatters. Recognising this, he has worked with a sports psychologist and trained hard over the mid-season break to maximise his chances of gaining the overall victory that has so far proved elusive.