Damien Lehl crowned champion at the Winter Challenge Match Racing final

After a thrilling and close final, the JPMorgan Asset Management Winter Challenge Match Racing Series has come to a close today with Damien Lehl of France taking the championship title.

Over 300 sailors from 13 countries entered the qualification series to fight for a berth in the final which was held this weekend (10-12 March) at Queen Mary Sailing Club, Staines.

Day three of the final opened with sailors completing the last four flights in the round robin in eight to ten knots of wind. Frenchmen Vincent Biarnes and Damien Lehl were the first to hit the water. Biarnes crossed the line early and was forced to go back and re-cross giving Lehl a confident lead from which he never looked back.

Richard (FRA) and Williams (GBR), the top seeds at the JPMorgan Asset Management Winter Challenge squared up for match two. The two boats crossed the start neck and neck, but Williams switched his boat speed on and gained a slight lead going up the first windward beat. Richard remained hot on Williams’ tail but was never quite able to catch up giving Williams the win.

The final two round robin races saw Hansen and Richard match up and Cornah and Biarnes compete in races that would determine who would qualify for the semi-final. Hansen won the start and a lead against Richard. Over the next two legs, Richard slowly reeled Hansen in but just before the finish line Hansen executed a clean gybe followed by Richard who could not imitate Hansen’s good form, leaving Hansen to take the win.

After a tough round robin, Biarnes who had only won three races, found his form against Cornah. Leading off the line, Biarnes could not be stopped and while Cornah tried to catch up Biarnes won the match.

At the end of the round robin Williams was declared the winner followed by Lehl in second and a three way tie for third between, Richard, Hansen and Campbell-James. To resolve the tie-break, race officials referred back to the round robin results, looking at how the three teams had previously placed against each other. Richard, Hansen and Campbell-James all had one win; however, Campbell-James was the only of the three to have lost against Williams and was therefore forced down into fifth place and out of the semi-final.

The semi-finals, a best of three series, kicked off with first pairing Williams and Lehl and second pairing Hansen and Richard fighting each other for a slot in the final. Williams and Lehl had the first start with Lehl taking a convincing race win. Williams took the second race making it one race all. The final race started with the two teams neck and neck until Lehl held Williams out at the windward mark gaining a couple boat lengths advantage and eventually the win.

Hansen went out to get a slot in the final and he certainly delivered. In match one, Hansen incurred a pre-start penalty and took a firm lead only unwinding his penalty at the finish before crossing the line to lead. Hansen’s luck followed him into the second race where he won again, moving him into the final.

In the third/fourth sail off Williams was unable to hold Richard back. After being over the line early in both races Williams was unable to pull back into contention leaving Richard to finish in third and Williams in fourth place overall.

With the championship title at stake Hansen and Iehl prepared for the final. Hansen took the first race after extending his lead but Iehl fought back in the second race to claim a victory of his own. The final race got underway in perfect match racing conditions. Hansen and Lehl got off to a close start and said the first beat neck and neck.

The downwind leg brought lots of interaction between the two boats who proceeded to luff each other until Lehl received a penalty that he would need to unwind. At the leeward mark the two teams separated, sailing to different sides of the course in the hope of pulling ahead. When they met again at the windward mark Iehl had a four boat-length lead but with a penalty still over his head Lehl had to turn a circle before crossing the finish line. With mere boat-lengths to spare, Lehl executed his circle at the pin end of the finish line and finished just seconds in front of Hansen.

Lehl relayed his thanks when accepting the trophy. “It was a bit cold but we had perfect conditions for today’s match racing. One of my crew said that we had to win this event and we managed to come out as victors. Bjorn Hansen was a good competitor who provided a fantastic final match race and who didn’t make it easy for us to win.”

“We have been delighted by the quality of racing at this event and by the number of keen match racers that have shown interest in competing over the series,” Campbell Flemming, Head of UK JPMorgan Asset Management commented as he presented the top three finishers with their trophies. “We are really pleased to be associated with the Winter Challenge and want to thank the race organisers, umpires, race officials and sailors that make the event possible.”

David Campbell-James, event organiser, was positive about the Winter Challenge series. “The JPMorgan Asset Management Winter Challenge Series has been incredibly successful this year. We have had over 300 sailors entered in the event coming from around the world and all ranked at the top of the world match racing rankings.

Overall Results

1, Damien Iehl, Frederique Guilmin, Mikael Mergui, Francios Verdier, FRA

2, Bjorn Hansen, Anders Jonsson, Jacob Nilsson, Johan Tempelman, SWE

3, Mathieu Richard, Greg Evrard, Olivier Herledant, Nathien Renault, FRA

4, Ian Williams, Mark Williams, Steve Mitchell, Mark Nichol, GBR

5, Mark Campbell-James, Dave Mason, Andy Clark, Andy Yates, GBR

6, Andrew Cornah, Andy Bryson, James Roche, Rob Miller, Matt Findlay, GBR

7, Vincent Biarnes, Tual Le Guillerm, Goron Nicolas, Devan Le Bihan, FRA

8, Johnie Berntsson, Johan Backman, Bjorn Lundgren, Henrik Ottosson, SWE

9, Claire Leroy, Dorothee Marelin d’Auray, Julia Touron, Elodie Bertrand, Ingrid Cerrato, FRA

10, Mads Ebler, Soren Tonder, Chris Keene Pedersen, Niels Knight, DEN