British sailor Ian Williams is the new ISAF Match Racing World Champion after defeating Italian Francesco Bruni in a tense quarter-final of the Monsoon Cup, the final event on the World Match Racing Tour. It is the second consecutive year that a British skipper has won the title after Ben Ainslie took the crown in 2010.
Williams, who won the Championship in 2007 and 2008, now joins Russell Coutts, Chris Dickson, Peter Gilmour and Ed Baird as only the fifth skipper to win the World Championship at least three times. Speaking after his victory, Williams paid tribute to his Team GAC Pindar crew of Bill Hardesty, Mal Parker, Gerry Mitchell and Matt Cassidy: “It feels fantastic to have won our third world title! We’ve had a really strong season - we won two regattas heading into the Monsoon Cup which is the most we’ve won in a season and we felt really strong as a team. They are fantastic and we can’t manage without any one member.
“The team pulls together when we are up against it and we were definitely up against it here, we pulled it out of the bag at a critical moment… It’s a massive release of emotions.”
A dejected Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing, a skipper who was bidding to become the first Italian to capture the championship, commented: “Today was not my day. The team sailed great, there were a few small mistakes but really it came down to me and I was under performing and I feel sorry about that. We had good starts all week but today’s were the worst which shows my brain wasn’t working. It was all on me today and I was below my usual standard. Ian did a great job, he’s always a tough competitor. It has been a great season for us though and we’ve performed really well overall. Finishing this way today when we were so close to the Championship title is disappointing.”
It was another fascinating day of sailing action in Malaysia. While the focus was all on Williams and Bruni, the other quarter-finals could all still determine the outcome of the Championship. As in the last Qualifying Session of the Monsoon Cup yesterday, every race today was a potential Championship changer with just six points separating these two skippers going into the event.
Bruni went 2-0 down with little fight in the first to three point quarter-final. In the first, Bruni crossed the finish line first but still carried an outstanding penalty that he picked up in the pre-start for failing to keep clear of Williams who was the starboard boat. It was a similar situation in the next match, the Italian again picking up a penalty, this time for running into Williams’ boat in the pre-start.
At 2-0, there was a break before the next race which allowed Bruni Racing to regroup. It showed. Williams applied all the pressure in the pre-start, pushing Bruni past the pin. The Italian managed to recover and, as they crossed after a split up to the first mark, Williams picked up a penalty after colliding with Bruni who had right of way. The umpires held up a red flag shortly afterwards having decided that there was a change of lead from the collision. The lead went to Bruni which he maintained to the finish to pull one back.
In the quarter-finals, each team was allowed to receive advice throughout from their coach. Olympic Silver medallist Ian Barker was Williams’ assigned coach while Bruni took advice from Torvar Mirsky, ironically the very skipper he’d knocked out of the World Championship contention in the Qualifying stages. It paid off for Williams, who took the advice of Barker to take the right side of the course on the final windward leg despite most teams making better gains on the left all day. Williams extended an early lead to the finish to capture his third point and with it, the 2011 World Championship.
In the end, the other matches didn’t affect the Championship outcome. Had Bruni beaten Williams, he would have been World Champion as the two other matches that could have affected the overall result went his way with Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team beating Will Tiller (NZL) Full Metal Jacket Racing and Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners beating Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team.
Williams and his team went on to take the Monsoon Cup the following day to finish the season in the best way possible. “This really tops off a terrific season!' enthused Williams. "We couldn’t let our emotion run too high yesterday because we were so focused on winning today. We came here to win and to take the World Championship yesterday and then this today, it’s just superb.
“The team has done so well, we are a new team who have come together and just got stronger and stronger all year. We won all three regattas on five man boats so I think that just shows the strength of the team.”