Damien Iehl wins Match Race France

Match Race France was won in France in a final contested by two Frenchmen as the opening of the 2011 World Match Racing Tour was brought to a brisk end. A Mistral was threatening to scream through Marseille at 40 knots on what was originally scheduled to be the finals day, Sunday.

The winner was Damien Iehl, sweeping aside by two wins to nil the challenge of the older campaigner Bertrand Pacé while the battle for third place went the way of the rising star from Australia, Torvar Mirsky, dispatching Denmark’s Jesper Radich 2-1.

Britain’s former world champion Ian Williams and his Team GACPindar had to sit out the final day having failed, on a countback, to make the quarter final cut.

Williams was not happy and was not looking for any excuses, except that his heavier crew, which had re-opened its WMRT campaign on the back of wins in California and Spain, was more attuned to heavier boats then the nippy J80s being used at the Yacht Club Rouge Pointe.

Long the tune-up and training ground for America’s Cup teams wanting to hone the specialist dark arts of match racing, especially the pre-start dance which has the specific aim of treading on your opposite number’s feet, the switch into multihulls for the 2013 Cup has changed the profile.

But it offers a wide spread of venues, with the Far East now more prominent after the circuit was sold to a Malaysian-based consortium. And it fits well for a sponsor company seeking an international profile.

Williams has two bites of that particular cherry as Andrew Pindar, whose Scarborough-based printing and digital media company operates worldwide, has joined forces with a Swedish-run, Middle East-based shipping company GAC not just on the match race circuit but the Extreme Sailing Series, which is contested in 40-foot catamarans.

“Match racing passions around the world are more concentrated in yacht clubs with a traditional approach while the Extreme Sailing Series is aimed more at a general public excited by the spectacle,” said Andrew Pindar in Marseille.

He had arrived just in time to hear Williams explain what had gone wrong but sees great potential in both events at a time when the economic climate means, he says, that the lower budgets, compared with America’s Cup, the Volvo round the world race or even the Audi MedCup circuit, can make it easier to keep in the marketing mix.

This week the spotlight switches to the Audi MedCup, which opens its 2011 account in Cascais, Portugal with a fleet of eight TP52s being joined for the first time by five of the new Soto 40s, including one campaigned by Britain’s Tony Buckingham. Niklas Zennstrom, having just resold the Skype internet communications company he helped found to Microsoft, enters the fray with a new, TP52, Rán.

The next stop for the WMRT is the German grand prix. In Charleston, the four skippers in the Velux 5 Oceans round the world race, including Britain’s Chris Stanmore-Major, started the final leg to La Rochelle, Franc.

Andrew Pindar “sanguine” about the double campaign: