A single race for Finns on Thursday at the Finn Gold Cup at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships provided few surprises, but some great racing. Pieter Jan Postma (NED) won the race to extend his lead to two points on Giles Scott (GBR), while Ben Ainslie remains in third, another two points back.
The fleet was treated to fantastic conditions once again with sunshine, 14-16 knots of wind and nice waves. Having been split into gold and silver fleets for the next three days, the racing has suddenly become much tougher. It has also shed some light on the country qualification process for the Olympics in 2012. With 18 places available here in Perth, there are 21 nations in the gold fleet, so the race is on to be one of these 18. Three of the 21 will have to try again next year in Falmouth, UK.
In an orderly fashion as is possible, the top three overnight from yesterday all finished in the same order in the top three in the single race in the gold fleet to keep the points close at the top, though they are building a small but significant margin over the rest of the fleet.
Regatta leader Postma led from start to finish. Ainslie rounded the top mark in second with Scott in third. Scott sailed past Ainslie on the downwind and closed on Postma, but the Dutchman kept his cool and his lead and rounded the final windward mark with a narrow lead. Postma and Scott then extended on Ainslie downwind to win by a sizeable margin from the five times champion. Behind them, defending champion Ed Wright (GBR) climbed through the fleet to finish fourth after a poor first upwind.
Postma said, “ It was great to win another race today. With just one race scheduled, I could put all my energy into this race. The British team had a great race, all in the top places. I have a bad race from the first day so I am holding my breath. I still attack though and will keep racing this way. At this high level you just can't relax. You have to go for it. At the same time I have to manage the risks, especially at the start to avoid a disqualification. Tomorrow is no exception, I will keep giving it my all."
After winning both races on the opening day, Ainslie now has a string of four third places.”It is a real contest on the water with PJ and Giles. They are both really fast. I am a bit lighter than them so especially upwind they are faster than me. I have to try to hang on close to them and wait for them to make a mistake.”
How does the training work between him and the other GBR sailors. “Training with the squad is great. We all realise that training together makes us all better. On the water it is each man for himself. However, this being said I have never had an issue with Giles on the water even when the racing is tight, which is surprising as we often end up in the same area.”
Double European Champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) has been struggling in the tough conditions, currently in 13th place after finishing 14th today. “It's been really windy so far and for me it's not easy as I am pretty light, so I was struggling. And today I had a really bad start so had to recover from behind and it wasn't that easy. Almost impossible in fact. For the moment it not the sweetest point but, let's hope for better in the coming days”
“It's hard to be with the fast guys especially in this wind. But this event is not that important for me. I just need to qualify the country for the Olympics and after this I can relax and focus on that. I am aware that fighting for medal here is difficult for me, so I just need to be realistic.”
On the battle at the top he said,, “They are close but it all depends on the conditions. If it remains like this I think PJ has a stronger chance because he is super fast but if wind starts to gets changeable and shifty then I think Ben and Giles are going to be fighting for the gold.”
Among the familiar faces in Perth is three times Olympian Anthony Nossiter (AUS) who just could couldn't miss the opportunity to sail a Finn Gold Cup in his home country. Down in 26th place he is having a tough time, but enjoying every moment. “It's good to be back, but it's tough being a tourist. It's such hard work. I rounded the top mark about 10th today but ended up about 20th as the race went on. But it's good to keep your Olympic class skills. And it's good fun. There's no sailing better than sailing a Finn. I'll be a Master in two years so I am looking forward to that and going up against the Big Czech [Mike Maier].”
In the silver fleet Brendan Wilton (CAN) had a fantastic race, leading from start to finish, loving the breezy conditions; some consolation perhaps for bad luck and gear failure on Wednesday which probably cost him a place in the gold fleet. Timo Haggort (NED) was second with Martin Robitaille (CAN) in third.
Wilton explained, “The key to today was definitely my upwind speed. After the start I had great speed and height and it opened up all my options. There were only small shifts so after I rounded ahead I knew that I could control the rest of the race. The Estonian Lauri [Vainsalu] was going great on the first downwind and he rounded right behind me at the bottom mark. Then I gained again upwind.”
“It feels awesome to win the race. Yesterday I was a little bit down after some breakages and a black flag so, coming back and winning a race feels good for sure. I definitely expected to be in the gold fleet here, after a top 30 would have been great, after coming 38th last year in San Francisco.”
Together with the rest of the Canadian team, Wilton has been preparing for a windy series. “For the last two years with San Francisco being a breezy event and this year and then Falmouth expected to be breezy, we have been trying to train in windy conditions.” Clearly that paid off today for Wilton and Robitaille.
The last word today goes to the Skandia Team GBR coach Matt Howard, “ We had five in the top seven today and so far so good. It reflects the long amount of time spent here training with the squad. The only one who didn't train this long is Ed but he is the World Champion from a windy venue so he is expected to do well as well. We all worked hard and so far it is paying off. Fingers crossed for the rest of the week. It is surely very satisfying for a coach but these results are even more satisfying when you are a sailor. For a coach though, it is hard to have a fully good day because in a big team there is always one of the guys who didn't perform so well. Today is one of those very rare days when everything works well.”
The Finn fleet is now back on schedule, with six races completed and five to go. Racing continues Friday and Saturday with two more races for each fleet each day in the finals series, before the medal race for the top 10 on Sunday.
Follow the Finn racing on the class blog at: http://www.finngoldcup.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=6 which includes the Twitter feeds of many of the sailors racing in Perth. All you need to know in one place.
Results after six races:
Full results so far at: http://www.perth2011.com/competition/PERTH2011/SAM002000/results