Damien Iehl wins RYA Winter Challenge Match Racing

by RYA 
Damien Iehl ensured it was a glorious double for France as he followed in the wake of compatriot Claire Leroy to claim 2008 RYA Winter Challenge Match Racing Series Grand Final glory.

Iehl clinched his second Winter Challenge title in three years in clinical fashion outwitting up-and-coming Australian skipper Torvar Mirsky 2-0 in the Grand Final to cap an impressive three days’ racing for the Frenchman at Queen Mary Sailing Club.

Just a fortnight ago Leroy, the women’s World number one, romped to RYA Women’s Winter Challenge victory also at Queen Mary setting the standard for the four of her fellow countrymen who had qualified for the Grand Final.

And it was Iehl, who had beaten World Champion Ian Williams on his way to Challenge Five qualifier success last month, who rose to the challenge to take the crown losing just two races throughout the whole event.

A delighted Iehl said: “We’ve been really pleased to come here especially so we can get in some winter sailing in J80s putting us, we feel, ahead coming into the new season. The first title we won in 2006 was one of the first times we had sailed together but now we have been sailing together for three years so we feel it is really coming together for us.”

Mirsky and young Brit Ali Hall had swept through to the semis at Queen Mary as the two men to beat having picked up eight wins and just one defeat apiece in the 15-flight Grand Final round robin.

Both men made the best of the perfect 12-15 knot day one conditions on Friday to post immaculate five out of five scores, Hall impressively taking the scalps of top seed Bjorn Hansen and Iehl en route to his opening day clean sweep.

With gusts of up to 25 knots on day two, it was Iehl who looked most at home in the heavier breeze, his only Saturday defeat coming to Hansen in the decisive final flight 15, which determined the pairings for Sunday morning’s semis.

Paired against one of two Brits in the first-to-three-points semis, Mirsky eased to a race one win over Campbell-James in light winds before the Briton hit back in the second race, forcing the Aussie into two penalties at the first windward mark and taking race two. But despite two more closely-contested races, Mirsky won out 3-1 to make his first Series final.

The other semi between Iehl and Hall was more straightforward, Hall unable to replicate the impressive form that had seen him upset the odds to book his place in the top four and Iehl cruising through to the final 3-0.

Iehl laid down the gauntlet to Mirsky immediately in the final, rapidly surging into a 2-0 lead.

But with the wind becoming ever more unpredictable officials were left with little choice but to abandon racing as setting a fair course became impossible, guaranteeing Iehl reclaimed his title.

RYA Racing Services Manager David Atkinson said: “You have only got to look at the list of 2007-08 Series winners to see how this event continues to have a place in the consciences of the World’s top match racers. To have been able to attract the calibre of the sailors we have again shows the credence and value they believe it has to their campaigns.

“The spectrum of sailors that enter the Series really makes it what it is. On one side you have the World’s top ranked racers like Ian Williams and Claire Leroy, who have always been staunch supporters of the event, and on the other it acts a fantastic opportunity for those up-and-coming racers to learn from the best and get invaluable, quality match racing under their belts.”

RYA Winter Challenge Match Racing Series Grand Final results (ISAF World ranking in brackets):

1) Damien Iehl (FRA) (8), Fred Guilnin, Mikael Meroul, Francois Verdier
2) Torvar Mirsky (AUS) (11), Tudur Owen, Graeme Spence, Kinley Fowler
3) Ali Hall (GBR) (60), Gareth Owen, Matty Adams, Dave Royce
4) Mark Campbell-James (GBR) (22), David Mason, Andrew Yates, Dan Gohl
5) Victor Lanier (FRA) (24), Nicolas Dore, Nicolas Deberque, Youen Guillygomarch
6) Bjorn Hansen (SWE) (5), Emil Wiberg, Johan Backman, Mathias Bredin
7) Christian Ponthieu (FRA) (41), Olivier Camebourg, Olivier Cardin, Gael Fichet
8) Andy Green (GBR) (124), Steve Mitchell, Sam Richmond, Connor Myant
9) Carsten Kemmling (GER) (27), Georg Hecht, Urs Wihlfahrt, Peter Stein
10) Alexis Littoz Baritel (FRA) (55), Matthieu Moreaux, Benjamin Tristan, Arthur Keller

2007-08 Series Winners (by skipper):

Development Event (10-11 November) – Sarah Ayton (GBR)
Winter Challenge 1 (24-25 November) – Carsten Kemmling (GER)
Winter Challenge 2 (7-9 December) – Ian Williams (GBR)
Winter Challenge 3 (19-20 January) – Victor Lanier (FRA)
Winter Challenge 4 (26-27 January) – Andy Green (GBR)
Winter Challenge 5 (8-10 February) – Damien Iehl (FRA)
Women’s Winter Challenge (22-24 February) – Claire Leroy (FRA)
Winter Challenge Match Series Final (7-9 March) – Damien Iehl (FRA)