World Match Racing Tour 2011 contenders for this season's title will take to the water for the opening event of the season in Marseille on May 10th as the verbal jousting and pre-season posturing is put to one side and the on-water action takes centre stage.
Mathieu Richard (r) French Match Racing celebrates after winning at Match Race France in Marseille, France 11 April 2010 Photo: Brendon O’Hagan/Subzero images
The skippers, former World Champions and young contenders alike, have whipped up the anticipation ahead of the new season with each confidently suggesting the World Championship is within their capability or at the very least a podium place.
As New Zealand's Phil Robertson of Waka Racing said: 'Past rankings, reputations and results don't mean anything to us. We are the youngest team on the Tour but we plan on racing with the skill and maturity of the old boys. We have what it takes and will throw everything at it.'
From May 10-15 Match Race France will renew old rivalries and spark new clashes off the coast of the south of France as seven of the 2011 Tour Card Holders along with three wild cards and two qualifiers fight it out in the first race of the season.
While Robertson's words sound punchy they are indicative of the attitude amongst the 2011 Tour Card Holders heading into this season. Not only does the WMRT offer the biggest purse prize in world sailing – US$1.75 million – but this year's eclectic mix of Tour Card Holders each seem to feel they have a point to prove.
Whether it's Australia's Peter Gilmour (Yanmar Racing) who is out to show he still has the winning touch to claim a fifth title, or his fellow Australian Torvar Mirsky (Mirsky Racing Team) who is eager to prove he can convert his reputation into actual event wins, each team has set the bar high. However the podium can't accommodate them all so with nine Tour Card Holders, six will be left to rue missed opportunities while only one will taste ultimate glory.
While there is a shared goal of winning that is perhaps where the similarities of these Tour Card Holders end. The difference of nationalities, sailing styles and overall strategies across the teams for the season ahead will create some of the most exciting action seen on the WMRT.
Whilst the Championship won't be won or lost at Match Race France, it will be a vital early stepping stone to gain momentum. Recent headlines suggest that Great Britain's Ian Williams of Team GAC Pindar, who was second in last year's Match Race France, is in fine form after triumphing at Long Beach Yacht Club's 47th Congressional Cup in March.
Four other Tour Card Holders – Bruni, Richard, Berntsson and Robertson, were all victims of Williams' success in California, and the Brit will surely take a psychological edge into the season opening regatta.
A quick glance over his other shoulder and Williams will see he is also flanked by yet more tough competition in France. Last year's most consistent performer Jesper Radich (DEN) Radich Racing Team, Iehl, Mirsky and Gilmour will all be gunning to make an early impression on the title race.
If the finale to last season was tantalisingly close, this year's revised points system could take the race to become World Champion all the way to the final gybe. The talking is over – Marseille and the start of the 2011 World Match Racing Tour beckons.
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