Ben Ainslie (GBR) is back on top at the Finn Gold Cup at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships after another incredible display of consistency and skill. The five time Finn world champion now has a two point lead from Giles Scott (GBR) while overnight leader Pieter Jan Postma (NED) slips to third another five points back.
Friday was always going to be the day of reckoning for the Finn fleet with the first full day of finals racing. While no one in the top ten had yet lost the championship, no one had also yet won it. Today the gaps got wider as a number of boats in the top 10 picked up some relatively high scores and delivered a little bit more clarity to the picture.
The wind gradually built during the day with 10-12 knots at the start of race seven, building to 15-16 knots by the end of race eight.
The early leader in race seven was Tapio Nirkko (FIN), leading round the top mark from Jonas Hoegh Christensen (DEN) and Ainslie. Ainslie slipped past both of them on the first reach to lead down the run and was never headed, extending on each and every leg to win by a 30 second margin. Behind him Nirkko held on to second for a long time, but the defending world champion, put the throttle down on the final downwind to move up to second. Nirkko crossed in third.
Ainslie's main rivals finished deeper than they would have wanted. Postma recovered to fifth while Scott recovered to 10th. Ainslie's comment yesterday about keeping close and waiting for them to make a mistake happened sooner than any of them expected.
In race eight Scott made amends by leading all the way round for his third win of the week. He rounded the top mark ahead of Wright, Rafa Trujillo (ESP), and Ainslie. With the wind increasing it turned into a tough slog with the British sailors gradually working their way to the front. Scott led Ainslie and Wright in from the left on the second beat and with Andrew Mills (GBR) also passing Trujillo, it was a British top four at the finish. Ainslie actually closed up on Scott on the final downwind for a very close finish.
Ainslie said, “It was a tough day out there, but I managed two good races. I was more consistent than PJ and Giles. PJ did struggle a bit in the second race and Giles placed 10th in the first. That's good for me because I needed another really good day."
“When you are a good sailor, people expect you to be winning all the time and it put a lot of pressure on you. Some of the sailors out there are really hard to beat, the quality of the fleet is high and winning is never easy. With the free pumping, sailing downwind is often brutal. Sometimes I can imagine what it might be to be a rower. When you are racing, it is just amazing that you can keep pushing yourself so hard."
Looking ahead to Saturday, he said, “ Sailing tomorrow on Centre course will be interesting. I need another good race before going into the medal race.”
Postma reflected on his day, “My first start was good but not great. And the level is so high here, it has to be great to be able to win. In the second race I was on the left hand side of the start line and I was expecting the wind to come back to the left.”
“I feel that Ben has a bit more confidence in his performance and his speed. He is more consistent. Our speed upwind is very similar. But today he made the least mistakes of all. Last year at the worlds I was 20th, and now I have last year’s world champion behind me and Ben and Giles ahead. I have made a lot of progress. I am doing very well, and the best thing is that we know exactly what we are doing.”
“There are three more races to go and a lot is possible. I already have silver from the last ISAF Worlds in 2007, so there is everything still to play for.”
Several sailors had better day today. After an inconsistent start Tapio Nirrko is improving. He said, “I started second boat up from the pin from Ben and straight away went under him to find a fresh lane for myself. Then I went pretty to the left and kept it simple. The left was paying again so it was easy. I had the same strategy for the second race but the wind went more right and it the end it was OK, but I was also over the layline, so that didn't help. I did what I could to save it but I am happy with 15th.”
“The week so far hasn't been great for me. But I hope I turned the corner a little bit yesterday. Yesterday was OK for me and today I am quite happy with my performance.”
Ionnis Mitakis (GRE), a twice winner of the Junior European Championship, also had a better day. “ I had two good races today, an 11th and an eighth which is good in the Gold fleet. It was quite windy again so that makes it tougher. Today I tried to hike more and it paid off.”
Meanwhile last year's top Junior at the Finn Gold Cup, Caleb Paine (USA), had a great race eight to place 10th. He said, “At this point the regatta has not gone too well for me. I have had some problems with my set up, and I am just starting to get it together. It's a bit late in the game, but I am still learning so it's not a problem.”
“I had a good start in the second race today and boat end was pretty favoured and that's where I was. I took one hitch out for about two minutes and stayed in clear air and rounded the top mark about eighth.”
He explained his strategy, “ Once you are out in the front it's a lot easier staying there than being at the back and trying to get back through. You have to think about the risk factor in everything you do. If you are up at the front and maybe see and see an opportunity to make a gain, and it won't hurt you, then you obviously want to take it, maybe getting a bit more leverage out to the side, but you also have the flip side if you go too far then you risk losing out on other boats. So it's all about managing the risk.”
Greg Douglas (CAN) and Oliver Tweddell (AUS) are top Juniors this year in 23rd and 24th places. The ISAF World championship does not recognise the Junior categories and with entries limited, the Finn class has introduced the Silver Cup to allow sailors under 21 to compete without restriction during ISAF World's year. There are 11 junior Finn sailors competing in Fremantle with youngest Jorge Zarif (BRA). The 19 year old is fighting hard in 29th place and 17th nation (the top 18 will gain selection) with his main goal to select Brazil and himself for the London Games.
In the silver fleet today race wins went to Brendan Wilton (CAN) and Alexey Selivanov (RUS), while Tomas Vika (CZE) picked up two second places to lead the fleet into its final day of racing on Saturday.
Saturday will also be the last chance for the top 18 nations to win a berth at the 2012 Olympic Games. After eight races Eduard Skornyakov (RUS), in 33rd position, is holding the last spot. He is closely trailed by Jan Kurfeld (GER), Lei Gong (CHN) and four times Olympian, Michael Maier (CZE). Only 14 points separate these three countries from the Russian who will need to hold his ground in Saturday two races to ensure his country qualification.
Saturday’s final two gold fleet races are being held on the Centre course area, and with shorter courses, and maybe more laps, this should add a new element to the mix, and provide a thrilling conclusion for the fleet series before Sunday's medal race. Gold fleet races start from 14.30, while Silver fleet are racing on a different course from 14.50.
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 eight races:
Full results so far at: http://www.perth2011.com/competition/PERTH2011/SAM002000/results