A stunning performance by Phil Robertson in the quarter-finals of the 2011 Argo Group Gold Cup saw his WAKA Racing team defeat current Tour leader Ian Williams 3-0 in Hamilton, Bermuda. The defeat keeps the race for the ISAF Match Racing World Championship firmly alive with Williams’ nearest rivals, Torvar Mirsky and Francesco Bruni, both still in the hunt for the Gold Cup.
The unique competition format here in Bermuda has proved hugely popular among spectators, creating final flight deciders in the group qualification stages and a repechage which finished in a tense sail off between Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing, Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team and Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team. The World Championship can’t be won here but teams can lose it. With Hansen joining Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team as a big name victim in the repechage, it’s now unrealistic to expect either to win it at the Monsoon Cup.
When it came to the quarter-final picks, the skippers appeared to choose teams that they’ve held the upperhand over all season. Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar could have picked his nearest rival for the title, Bruni, to try and knock him out of the competition at the earliest opportunity but the Brit opted for Phil Robertson, a team Williams hasn’t lost to all season.
Robertson, currently tenth in the World Championship standings, defied the odds though. After winning the first match comfortably, Robertson built an immediate lead in the second and extended it throughout, eventually winning by a huge margin. It was the same story in the last match too leaving Williams, seemingly infallible in the qualifiers here as he was in St Moritz, to go home.
'Obviously we’re disappointed,' said Williams.'We came in here with high hopes but Phil had the speed edge all day and really deserved to win. When we sail like that we expect to lose. This regatta has been another bad one for us - we let ourselves down in St Moritz and we’ve done it again here so we really need to pick our game up heading into the Monsoon Cup.'
Meanwhile, an elated Robertson commented: 'We are over the moon to have beaten Ian. We just seemed to nail every shift today and it really couldn’t have gone any better. After losing every match against Ian so far this season it’s very cool to beat him 3-0. It makes the championship title a lot more open now, the points will be a lot closer and it will put a lot more pressure on a lot more teams going forward. We were hoping Berntsson wouldn’t get this far as we are trying to close the gap against him but in a way it’s good because it keeps the pressure on us to sail well.'
Bruni stands on the brink of joining Robertson in the semi-finals with an overnight 2-1 scoreline against Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team. Richard would be tied on 2-2 with Bruni however he received a full point penalty for a collision to make his life harder tomorrow.
It was a tense tussle from the off between the two teams, both forcing each other to defend any lead hard. Bruni had to seek medical attention after the Italian was knocked cleanly overboard by his swinging boom. Somehow he managed to scramble back into the boat, keep his spinnaker hoisted and take the win. His determination to win here and put the pressure on Williams is very clear.
Torvar Mirsky joins Robertson in the semi-finals after the Australian defeated Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners, a team he’s only lost one match against all season. Mirsky took the first two matches pretty comfortably and then took the lead in the final match on the final run. Like Bruni, the Gold Cup is a crucial event for Mirsky if he is to realise his dream of winning the World Championship: 'The Gold Cup is the penultimate event so it’s really important for us to move up on the scoreboard. That said, you never know what’s going to happen here, it’s a very unpredictable event so it’s going to be tough from here on in.'
The sole non-Tour Card Holder to make it into the knock out stages, Staffan Lindberg (FIN) Alandia Sailing Team, picked Johnie Bertnsson as his quarter-final opponent. Berntsson had been on the water since 9am today fighting it out in the repechage and it seem to play to his advantage, Berntsson taking a convincing victory in the first match.
In the second, Lindberg held a good lead over the Swede until Lindberg’s spinnaker got caught around his keel after a huge gust of wind rolled over his boat. It slowed him right up and allowed Berntsson to take the lead and win. Despite losing the next, Berntsson held firm to take the spoils 3-1 and keep his chances of qualifying automatically for the Monsoon Cup alive.
Ben Ainslie qualified from the repechage to win the 2010 Argo Group Gold Cup. Both Bruni or Berntsson would be delighted to repeat that this year.
Francesco Bruni’s quarter-final with Mathieu Richard will conclude tomorrow at 1130 local time (-4hrs GMT) on Saturday 8 October. Argo Group Gold Cup quarter-final results:
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing beat Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar sponsored by Argo Group 3-0
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team beat Staffan Lindberg (FIN) Alandia Sailing Team 3-1
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat beat Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners 3-0
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing and Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team are on 2-1 (racing to continue tomorrow).
Overall Championship Standings – after 6 stages:
1 Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar – 90pts
2 Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing – 89pts
3 Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat – 84pts
4 Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing – 74pts
5 Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team – 73pts
6 Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team – 67pts
7 Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team – 63pts
8 Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners – 61pts
9 Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team – 48pts
10 Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing – 43pts
Catch the preview on The WMRT Morning Show with Hannah White and a review of each day on The WMRT Today Show after racing finishes at www.wmrt.com
Live coverage of the 2011 Argo Group Gold Cup continues at 1300 - 1500 local time (-4hrs GMT) on www.wmrt.com