Over the years, the match race has become an event much coveted by the world’s leading sailors. Originally, match racing was inspired by the America's Cup, before becoming a sport in its own right. In 1871, the America's Cup took the form of dueling events then increasingly modernised by imposing rules that boats should be relatively similar and introduced the dial-up on the start line (the aim being to cross the line before your opponent on the starting signal). It was not until the 1960s that match racing developed again, with the Congressional Cup in the United States in 1965 and then in England in Lymington with the Royal Lymington Cup. But it was really following the “’87 Cup” in Australia that the discipline spread all over the world giving birth to the first French championship in 1987 and the first world championship in 1988. The World Match Racing Tour developed out of that regatta and is now seen as an innovative and internationally-recognised flagship of the circuit.
Match racing: what is it?
Match racing is a racing format, which consists of a series of duels between competitors over a short circuit. Each team consists of four people and must prove itself on a level playing field with strictly identical boats provided by the organisation, meaning the focus is on teamwork and skills. In 2016, the organisers of the World Match Racing Tour, to which Yann Guichard was invited, chose to have the teams compete on the M32, 9.68m-long catamarans, designed by the Swedes, Göran Marström and Kåre Ljung. In each round, the boats are assigned randomly.
The events are contested over a week in which the 20 participating teams compete against each other in short and very intense races lasting 10 to 12 minutes. The match race has very specific regulations that govern the races, with a system of penalties, announced with coloured flags from the race organisation boats.
DAY 1 AND 2
The 20 participating teams are divided into 4 groups of 5 boats (according to their world ranking).
The first two days are devoted to the fleet race for the five teams in each group. They face each other over 6 to 8 races, around a circuit consisting of five buoys and a start and finish gate (see diagram below). There is a loop between an upwind gate and a downwind gate completed in one or two turns. The goal: make the best start and carry out the most effective manoeuvres to gain time on your rivals. The buoys are placed depending on the layout of the site, but the aim is to be as close as possible to the public.
Once the fleet races are completed, the participants are ranked according to the following points system: at the end of each race, the winner gets one point, 2nd place two points, 3rd place three points, etc.
At the end of the first two days, the top 3 in each group qualify automatically to participate in the next stage. The boats ranked 4th and 5th in each group are separated by a match race. The first to 2 points qualifies.
At this stage, there are 16 boats still competing and the other 4 are eliminated from the competition.
> 16 TEAMS REMAINING
DAY 4: THE LAST 16
Now it is time for the last 16. To form the pairs that will compete against each other, the organisers base it on the ranking of the day before: the top-ranked boat faces the bottom-ranked boat, the second against the second to last, and so on to make the 8 pairs.
The match races are duels won by the first to 3 points.
> 8 TEAMS REMAINING
THE QUARTER FINALS
The same principle is used to form the quarter-final duels: the winner of PAIR 1 meets the winner of the PAIR 8, the winner of PAIR 2 meets the winner of the PAIR 7, PAIR 3/ PAIR 6 and so on...
The first to 3 points wins and qualifies for the semi finals.
> 4 TEAMS REMAINING
* "0,5 points" means that some teams get penalities during the match race.
THE SEMI FINALS
The two boats first to three points qualify for the final and the two losers contest the third-fourth playoff.
The first boat to get 2 points secures 3rd place on the podium.
> 2 TEAMS REMAINING
The final will be won by the first to 3 points.