World Match Racing Tour 2011.
Having come within an inch of winning the 2010 ISAF Match Racing World Championship, Mathieu Richard has refused to introduce wholesale changes ahead of this season's competition in a bid to go one better, instead placing trust and confidence in his team and their tactics. To take the title which he so strongly covets, the Frenchman believes only a few tweaks are required.
Having headed the leaderboard right until the final event – the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia - with wins in France, Korea and Switzerland, Richard then had to watch the title slip from his fingers and land in the hands of Britain's Ben Ainslie.
'Last year we had a great season - we were very close to the title and finished second which, was a great achievement. For 2011 we are changing little details to improve and be better this year but we haven't changed a lot. We have a strong team and are confident [we will] have a good year.'
Critics might say that Richard should bring in some new faces however it's those same faces as last year that the Frenchman says will give them the advantage. Richard started racing back in 2000 with his mainsail tactician and trimmer Greg Evrard, his pit and spinnaker trimmer Olivier Herledant, and his bowman Yannick Simon. Thierry Briend then joined in 2006 meaning the crew has been together for several years now.
'I think the big point for my team, is the team. We've had a very stable team for a while and for sure it's a very strong point for us. We know each other very well and we are very confident between ourselves – we know what to do with each other every time.'
Being together for this length of time has allowed Richard and his crew the luxury of being comfortable within their own style of racing. While fellow French Tour Card Holder Damien Iehl is known for having a more aggressive style, Richard said his crew can switch between smooth sailing and aggression depending on what's needed.
'It's difficult to say exactly what style we are. We try to be good at all parts of the game, and yes, probably Damien has a more aggressive style than me but I think that we can be aggressive when it's required.'
With this year's Tour kicking off in May, the team's preparations are well underway, most recently reaching the semi-finals of the Congressional Cup in California. Another added advantage for Richard is Iehl and his French Match Racing Team who make their debut as Tour Card Holders. As friends and training partners, the French teams have something the other crews don't – a Tour Card Holder to train against all year round.
'It's an advantage in training because it's important to practice against a good team. Match racing is like tennis – you can't train against a bad partner – and that's where we have an advantage, we have a good opponent to train against.'
'I think it's good for us because the two teams we have on the Tour have the same goal – to win the Championship – and we are used to practicing together, we have a very good atmosphere between the two teams and are both very motivated this year again.'
Not only does Richard have the advantage of Iehl to train against but he also has two different types of boats on hand to train in.
'We have the J80s - the small boats which are very good to prepare for events with only 4 people onboard and we also have the JOD35. They are bigger boats, 35 feet and we have 5 onboard so we can choose between the J80s or JOD35.'
Although focused very much on his own team and their preparations, Richard knows he needs an acute understanding of his competitors if he is to defeat them. With the two most recent Champions – Ben Ainslie and Adam Minoprio – both absent from this year's competition, Richard could be forgiven for being a touch more confident. In truth though, the Frenchman is under no illusion as to the task that lies ahead in taking on this year's Tour Card Holders.
'Adam and Ben are both very good skippers, but they are all very strong teams this year so I can't say it will be easier. There is no doubt it will still be very tough.
'Mirsky Racing Team will be very strong, they finished third last year - it's a young team, they are improving every year and they are strongly motivated. Equally, Radich Racing Team will be very strong - last year they didn't win any events but reached the finals in every event they raced in in the build up to Malaysia.
'Damien of course will be a strong team and I would also say of course (Ian) Williams and (Peter) Gilmour. It's very tough to say who will be the Champions. What I know is that it will be very tough to win the Championship.'
Having competed on the WMRT since 2003, Richard said the thrill of the competition lives strong.
'The WMRT is really a fantastic Tour because the venues are great, all the events are professionally run and well organised. But what I love the most about the Tour is the sporting side - it's at a very high level. We fight against very strong teams and it's exciting to sail at [that level]. You have to improve and be at the top always if you want to win matches.' World Match Racing Tour 2011
Match Race France, May 10 - 15, 2011
Match Race Germany, May 24 – 29, 2011
Korea Match Cup, June 7 - 12, 2011
Portimao Portugal Match Cup, June 22 - 26, 2011
Match Cup Sweden, July 4 – 10, 2011
Danish Open, August 24 – 28, 2011
St Moritz Match Race, Aug 30 – Sept 4, 2011
Argo Group Gold Cup, October 3 - 9, 2011
Monsoon Cup, Nov 22 – 27, 2011 www.wmrt.com