Ian Williams struggles at World Match Racing Tour

Trial in Marseille, tribulation in Rome as former world champion Ian Williams struggled to make the cut in the opening World Match Racing Tour grand prix of the season and the America’s Cup Challenger of Record, Mascalzone Latino, abandoned any hope of competing in 2013.

Mascalzone boss Vincenzo Onorato was in emotional mood as he said to “dear friends and supporters” that “with deep sorrow I have to announce my decision to withdraw my team from the 34th America’s Cup.”

Onorato, who owns the Moby ferry line, and his sponsoring club, the Club Nautico de Roma, had drawn up the protocol for the next Cup with the defender, the San Francisco-based Oracle Racing Team its club, the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

But it has long appeared that, along with others among the initial 14 challengers, the economic pressures affecting both Europe and many other parts of the world, would prove too much.

“In our sport, men in blazers have overcome by now those in oilskins. I’m a man in oilskins and when I go to sea I want to win. I’m not interested in a hopeless challenge. I would lie to the sponsors, to our fans and, last, but not least, to myself.”

It is expected that the Artemis challenge from Sweden will step into the Challenger of record job. Its ceo, Paul Cayard, is a close collaborator with his Oracle opposite number, Russell Coutts. But the bigger question is how many bona fide America’s Cup challengers there will be.

The New Zealanders have secured both NZ$36m of government plus a lot more sponsor backing but the nature of the government backing claimed by the China Team is less clear.

No other team has declared that it is ready to race and the first regatta, in 45-foot wing-powered catamarans, is due to take place in Cascais in August.

At the same time any viable team would need to be pouring energy and money in to designing and building this year the class of 72-foot wing-powered catamarans that begin campaigning in August next year and will be used in the challenger elimination trials in San Francisco in the summer of 2013.

Summer was settling into Marseille on the second day of Match Race France but it had a cutting edge for Williams. He has only one race to go before the eight go into the quarter finals. If he loses to Sweden’s Bjorn Hansen he is definitely out. If he wins then he will go into a tie-break.

“It was a day for being smooth and fast and we weren’t,” said Williams on the dock of the Yacht Club Pointe Rouge. “And we were giving half a length away here, half a length away there. It cost us dear.

“We’re traditionally strong in starting and normally in a bigger boat it is more important to control the favoured side of the track. In these J80s it is more about squeezing speed out of the boat, but we haven’t managed that at this regatta.”

Damien Iehl, Jesper Radich, Torvar Mirsky and Pierre-Antoine Morvan are sure of quarter final places. It is tight for the other four.