Sunday, 12 July 2009

Rolex Baltic Week: Scheidt and Prada Crowned 2009 Star European Champions in photo-finish

Scheidt and Prada crowned 2009 Star European Champions in photo-finish finale at Rolex Baltic Week

The winners from Brazil, with their trophy: Bruno Prada (left) and Robert Scheidt (right). Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

by Andreas Kling

World number one Star class sailors Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada from Brazil clinched the 2009 Star European Championships title on Saturday (11 July) at a nail-biting final day of the Rolex Baltic Week in Kiel, Germany. Topping a world-class fleet of 89 boats, Scheidt/Prada went into the last day's racing with just a one-point lead over early leaders and Olympic gold medallists Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (Great Britain). But they extended it to a four point victory in a dramatic final showdown between these long-standing rivals, with fellow Olympic medallist Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander from Sweden snapping at their heels in third overall tied on points with the Brits.

In a fresh south-westerly breeze of 18-19 knots, racing got underway at the first attempt with a clean start. The bulk of the pack started close to the favoured committee boat end, with few teams opting for the pin end. Covered by the fleet, the three big guns struggled to get a clear track up the first beat. Loof came out best, in fifth place, whilst the early lead went to Flemming Sörensen/Niels Hansen-Thrysøe (DEN), followed by Martin Lovrovic/Sinis Mikulicic (CRO) and Johannes Polgar/Tim Kroeger (GER). Lars Grael (BRA) rounded the first mark a little ahead of Loof, with Percy back in 13th.

Star fleet set out against the sky. Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

Overall leader Scheidt was initially buried in the pack, approaching the top mark somewhere in the upper 30s or lower 40s. The breeze dropped to 13 knots during the first round, with Xavier Rohart (FRA) making gains to climb to fourth. As a new windward mark was set, the breeze picked back up for the second round to 17-18 knots. The Danes were still in the lead at the second top mark, but the Croatian team lost out to first Rohart then Polgar. Of the podium contenders, Loof was still in fifth whilst Percy had dropped one place down to 14th and Scheidt still failed to make any impression on the race. The downwind finish saw the French team pushing their boat right to the edge in gusts of around 20 knots, surfing the small waves and grabbing the bullet from Sörensen by less than a boat length. Polgar/Kroeger celebrated their first podium finish in third with Loof/Tillander coming 4th.

Scheidt/Prada immediately discarded their 30th place, replacing it with a fourth from earlier in the week. Meanwhile Percy/Simpson were also able to discard their 10th from the day's first race, but were forced to bring a 6th place finish from Wednesday into the calculations. Hence, Scheidt/Prada's overall lead crept up to three points, but with 88 boats at the starting line and the ever-present black flag, it all hung on the final race.

With tensions running high, race chairman Christian Haacke from Berlin promptly started the final race of the Rolex Baltic Week at 13.30 (local time), on a 1.75-nautical mile course with an upwind finish to determine the overall winners. In blustery breezes the sun came out for the grand finale.

Star fleet rounding the offset mark. Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

And what a finale it was, with all three podium contenders separated by less than two boat lengths at the final gun. An easing breeze made for an ultra-tense final lap, with both Percy and Loof able to creep through the leading group. Overall leaders Scheidt/Prada opted to cover Percy/Simpson in defence of the overall title, letting Loof and the German team of Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs through.

Whilst the Olympians duelled for position, at the finish it was Babendererde/Jacobs who took a popular home win, whilst just half a boat length behind them came Loof/Tillander (SWE) in second. Crucially in third place were Scheidt/Prada, who managed to hold off closest rivals Percy/Mitchell by just half a boat length, who were overlapped in fourth.

This gave Scheidt/Prada the 2009 Star European Championships, and the Rolex Baltic Week prizes of two Rolex Submariner Date timepieces, with 18 points, including no fewer than three race wins. An exhilarated Scheidt said afterwards: "What a day... tough and great racing again out there. We missed a big shift to the right in the first race and never came back. We needed to wash our minds free from that one before we went into the last. And we started well, sailed fast and clever, leading and controlling the fleet halfway up the final beat. Then the wind died and we saw Percy and Loof firing along the course coming closer and closer. It was hard to decide whom we should cover. We kept closer to Percy than Loof and managed to stay ahead of the Brits, with Loof and the great young German guys passing us. We are so happy to win this tough regatta and proud to receive the watches (Rolex Submariner Date timepieces)."

High level of competition within the Star Class:
07, Sail Number: GBR 8316, Helmsman and Crew: RAZMILOVIC ANTE (1971), HAMMERSLEY BRIAN (1979)
24, Sail Number: GER 8109, Helmsman and Crew: POLGAR JOHANNES (1977), KROGER TIM (1964)
72, Sail Number: GER 8340, Helmsman and Crew: STANJEK ROBERT, KOY MARKUS
Star Class European Championship 2009. Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

Tied on 22 points overall are Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson, and Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander, with the Brits just taking second on countback. A disappointed Percy said: "We sailed badly again on the last day especially on the wind shifts. We didn't deserve the title this time." And third-placed Loof commented: "I'm pretty happy about our performance coming here with a new crew mate, although we missed the top of the podium [it was] quite tight."

Behind the top three were more than 40 points between Loof/Tillander and the next crews, Loof explained: "The three top scorers pushed each other very hard and that might make the difference to the rest of the fleet. We've trained with Scheidt at the beginning of the season and we all had a big benefit from this. They are a bit faster upwind I think and we have an advantage downwind."

Loof also praised the organizers of Rolex Baltic Week, saying: "The Rolex Baltic Week was a great regatta on the water and on shore. Close racing and fabulous social events. Thanks to the organizers." For many of the leading Star contenders the battle now continues, with the world championships in Sweden next month. Loof added: "We are looking forward to the Worlds in two weeks time from now in Swedish home waters off Varberg. I know this area very well and hope for revenge there!"

Brits Percy/Simpson will not be taking part in the re-match however, as crew Andrew Simpson has an important wedding to attend - his own! "We came here because of the ongoing legal action the America's Cup and no racing there," explained Percy. "We have a quiet season and will not going to the Worlds in Sweden because Andrew will celebrate his marriage."

In fourth overall at the Rolex Baltic Week was the consistent duo of Flavio Marazzi/Enrico De Maria (SUI). The final race winners Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs (GER) finished top German team in 5th beaten by not more than half a point, with team mates Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (GER) in 6th. Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube (USA) took 7th, with double race winners Xavier Rohart/Pierre Alexis Ponsot in 8th. Hamish Pepper/Craig Monk finished 9th overall, with Diego Negri/Giovanni Stilo (ITA) rounding off the top 10.

The three winners from the left: JOHAN TILLANDER, FREDRIK LOOF (third), BRUNO PRADA, ROBERT SCHEIDT (first), IAIN PERCY, ANDREW SIMPSON (second). Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

Final overall results after eight races of the 2009 Rolex Baltic Week / Star Class European Championship on Saturday (11 July)
1 Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada (Brazil) 18 points
2 Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (Great Britain) 22
3 Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander (Sweden) 22
4 Flavio Marazzi/Enrico de Maria (Switzerland) 63.5
5 Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs (Germany) 64
6 Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (Germany) 66
7 Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube (USA) 69
8 Xavier Rohart/Pierre Alexis Ponsot (France) 78
9 Hamish Pepper/Craig Monk (New Zealand) 78
10 Diego Negri/Giovanni Stilo (Italy) 85

Rolex Baltic Week

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