Chris Dickson pips Magnus Holmberg at stage one of World Match Racing Tour 24/7/06

Chris Dickson pipped Magnus Holmberg within yards of the finish line to win the $100,000 Portugal Match Cup, Stage 1 of the 2005-’06 World Match Racing Tour yesterday.

Shifty conditions with gusty 10- 15-knot winds were challenging for the finalists. Dickson streaked to a 2-0 lead before Holmberg battled back to even the score 2-2, setting up a one race, winner-take-all finale.

In a race with two lead changes, a penalty and slick boathandling, Dickson won by less than half a boatlength. He won $35,000 in prize money and is the early leader in the World Championship standings. The 2006-’07 World Championship will be a series championship among the World Tour events.

Dickson, skipper and CEO of the BMW Oracle Racing Team for the America’s Cup, raced with Zack Hurst, Jann Neergaard, Kazuhiko Sofuku and Paul Westlake.

Dickson, who finished the regatta with a record of 13-4, holds the early lead in the 2006-’07 World Championship. He has 25 points and Holmberg 20 points.

“The conditions are very difficult and we knew we were going to lose some,” Dickson said after the dramatic 3-2 win. “We took one race at a time. I lost one start which made it difficult, it was close racing. Magnus and his crew sailed very well.”

Magnus Holmberg’s (SWE) Victory Challenge team won $20,000 in prize money for second place. Holmgerg’s crew included Anders Dahlsjò, Lars Linger, Mal Parker and Stefan Rahm.

Reigning Tour champion Peter Gilmour (AUS), PST, won the Petite Final by 2-1 over Jes Gram-Hansen (DEN), Mascalzone Latino Capitalia Team, which placed fourth.

“Every now and again you do well, third I can’t complain about,” said Gilmour. “I’m very impressed with the win that the BMW Oracle guys had. I’ve got a couple of close friends and my bowman (Kazuhiko Sofuku) was sailing with them and they won well, I was very impressed.”

Gilmour and Gram-Hansen, who also finished third and fourth last year, stand third and fourth in the World Championship with 15 and 12 points, respectively.

The final race between Dickson and Holmberg was close throughout. Holmberg was hit in the pre-start with a penalty, and then Dickson nailed the start for a nice early advantage. Holmberg used the shifty winds to his advantage. He was able to do his 270-degree penalty turn on the first beat and lead around the windward mark and the leeward mark.

But where the shifty winds were an aide to Holmberg early in the race, they quickly turned against him. Holmberg estimated he picked the wrong side of the leeward gate. That gave Dickson the lead at the second windward mark and beginning the run to the finish, but Holmberg wasn’t done. He rallied back to overlapped approaching the finish, when nifty spinnaker work helped Dickson cross the line first.

“A key moment was both boats did two gybes just before the finish, and our spinnaker was always set through the two gybes,” said Dickson. “On the other boat the spinnaker collapsed, it’s not always easy to keep it full, but ours stayed full and that was the deciding factor at the finish.”

Dickson could be heard urging on his crew after rounding the last mark in the lead.

“That was an aggressive match from both boats,” said Dickson. “We went hard in the pre-start and got a penalty on him and won the start. Then, halfway up the first beat, he wiped his penalty off. We [went from] going round the top mark [after] having started the race ahead and with a penalty on him, [to] behind with no penalty. After that point both boats got down to match-racing and it was close race, no more flags.”

For Holmberg, the key moment was the leeward gate.

“It was a tough finish, it was so close,” said Holmberg. “We were down 2-0 and came back to 2-2 and the last race was really intense because the leader was changing all the time. The bottom gate was probably where we lost the race, mostly we were in the lead but I picked the wrong mark, it’s really difficult in these wind conditions when the wind is swinging back and forward and the pressure is up and down. I think we’ve sailed really well this week, so we should be happy with that.”

The win was Dickson’s second at a Grade 1 match-racing regatta this year.

“It feels really good,” said Neergaard of Dickson’s crew. “I guess we just saved a little bit of excitement until the end. Magnus came back really well after we had an easy two races. He beat us quite fair and square in the next two races, so it was all down to the last one. I think we just managed to pull the long straw and just peeped ahead of him by not even 10 meters, so it’s pretty good.”