America’s Cup teams return to the World Match Racing Tour

Published on September 8th, 2014

There was a time when the road to the America’s Cup was routed through the World Match Racing Tour. The likes of Chris Dickson, Peter Gilmour, Russell Coutts, Ed Baird, Dean Barker, and Jimmy Spithill all honed their craft on the Tour before claiming roles on America’s Cup teams.

Over 15 seasons, the Tour has been the leading professional match racing series, sanctioned by the International Sailing Federation, with prize money awarded for each event and event points culminating in the crowning of the Match Racing World Champion.

But with the recent move of the America’s Cup toward multihulls, the Tour has questioned its position. The top sailors have been seeking other avenues to sharpen their high speed skills as the America’s Cup game shifts away from the refined match racing skills that the Tour fosters.

Events like the Extreme Sailing Series, and classes like the International Moth, have become populated with America’s Cup sailors. However, recent announcements show the pendulum swinging back to the Tour, if perhaps just for this year before the America’s Cup schedule heats up again in 2015.

When the field of 12 teams arrives at the Tour event in Chicago on September 17-21, among the skippers will include Tom Slingsby, an Olympic Gold Medalist and strategist for the successful defense of the 34th America’s Cup – Oracle Team USA. Slingsby now serves as the Oracle’s sailing team director, and recognizes his need to work on the match racing segment of this game.

“Match racing is an extremely important skill to have in the AC arena,” said Slingsby. “I was fortunate to be able to join Oracle Team USA and be given a shot because everyone was learning together how to match race a multihull. I have a lot of experience match racing in fleet racing situations but I’m really keen to improve my match racing at this event. I’ve got a great team with me, but I’m definitely going to be the weak link out there. We will get beaten up here I think, but for me that’s often the best way to fast track your improvement.”

When the Tour moves to Bermuda on October 21-26, there will be two of the America’s Cup challenging teams represented. Francesco Bruni of the Luna Rossa team will return to defend his 2013 Argo Group Gold Cup title, while Artemis Racing will make their debut at the event.

“At the end of the day the America’s Cup is a match race,” notes Artemis Racing tactician Iain Percy. “As a team, we are relatively inexperienced on the match racing side and so (this) is a great opportunity to practice.”

Percy, who has won the Bermuda event with skipper Ben Ainslie, will this time be mentoring Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge in both match racing and in the heavy IODs. “Obviously it will be very different from what I am used to,” admits Outteridge. “The classic IOD style of boats is nothing like the foiling machines that I am used to sailing. Having said this, Iain has sailed this style of boat quite a bit. I’m sure with his guidance I will do just fine.”

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