Alpari World Match Racing Tour sets sail this week
The 2012 Alpari World Match Racing Tour gets underway at Match Race Germany this week. While it’s a chance to assess several of the teams’ early season form, a number of new interesting subplots are due to play out.
While much of the pre-season focus has been on the bid from Team GAC Pindar's Ian Williams to equal Peter Gilmour’s record four titles, a national rivalry story has added extra spice to this year’s Championship race with Sweden, New Zealand and Australia each represented this year by two Tour Card Holders. Swedish sailing legend Magnus Holmberg recently said he favoured Johnie Berntsson over Bjorn Hansen as his pick for the series this year. Responding to Holmberg’s belief that Berntsson is a stronger bet to win the 2012 Tour, Hansen said: “We want to be on the podium this year and we want to be the best Swedish match racing team. Are we good enough to beat Johnie? Definitely.”
Hansen admits his team feels they “have unfinished business” to tend to. Although victorious at the Korea Match Cup and a runner-up at Stena Match Cup Sweden, his Mekonomen Sailing Team’s 2011 season was marred by inconsistent form, something Hansen is intent on putting right in 2012: “We need to raise our ‘lower level’. When we weren’t on top form, we were losing too many matches. You need to also win ugly to become the Champion of this series.”
Heading to Germany from Venice where he was helming the China Team AC45, Phil Robertson is another Tour Card Holder who may well be feeling he has a point to prove after a tough opening season in 2011 and, with fellow New Zealander Laurie Jury now also holding a card, Robertson will also have to fight for the bragging rights back home.
Also to watch is the challenge that awaits the crop of young sailors who have earned Tour Cards for the first time this season. Few would expect teams to compete at the top end of the leaderboard in their first season, but in Pierre-Antoine Morvan and Simone Ferrarese, Tour fans have been given an indication these two could be challenging the podium sooner rather than later.
Simone Ferrarese, the youngest Tour Card Holder, recently received a ringing endorsement from current Champion Ian Williams, who fully expects him to “make an impression on the Tour this year” following a semi-final appearance at the Congressional Cup in California. Ferrarese downplays this expectation but knows he can’t stay under the radar for long: “There is no expectation for us this year and I think that might work in our favour. We’re a young team and hopefully we can use our position as underdogs to take a few people by surprise. Once we’ve proved we can be consistently competitive at each event this season, we know that people will expect us to step up and that’s fine. I think we can challenge for a Championship title in the next few years.”
Pierre-Antoine Morvan is more bullish about his chances in his first season and as current No. 3 in the ISAF Match Racing World Rankings and finalist at last season’s St. Moritz Match Race, he feels he needs a podium finish in his first season to really underline his pedigree: “The Alpari World Match Racing Tour is match racing at the top level. It’s a big step up for us but we have the ability to get up to speed quickly and secure a podium in our first season. We have to be aiming for that to really make an impression and we’ll call on our good friends Mathieu [Richard] and Damien [Iehl] and our coach Bertrand [Pace] to try and achieve it.”
Sailing fans will not have long to wait to see who seizes the early advantage. The first two chapters of the season will already be concluded in the next fortnight with Match Race Germany falling back-to-back with the Korea Match Cup, which starts on 29 May.