Sept. 19, 2014, Chicago, USA – Just when it mattered most, Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Sailing Team turned a near disastrous regatta around into the comeback of the event, winning his last four matches of the Repechage to earn the eighth Quarter Final slot at the Chicago Match Cup, the only U.S. stop of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour (AWMRT).
After a lackluster performance in the Qualifying Series yesterday, and a terrible start to the Repechage today, Hansen looked as though the Chicago Match Cup would end early for him when after three flights he had still not won a single match. He needed to win all of his remaining four matches to have a chance to go through to the Quarter Finals, and even then might be at the mercy of tie-breaks among the other seven teams to determine his fate.
Hansen caught in luffing match with Monnin in Flight 2 – drone photo Isao Toyama/CMRC
As one of the senior members of the AWMRT, Hansen has done well this year, and not qualifying was not an option: he won Match Cup Sweden in July and is only one point behind Qualifying series winner Taylor Canfield (ISV) US One at third place on the Tour leader board.
“It feels great to get through and start with a clean slate now,” said Hansen. “It has felt like we've just been out of luck all week, where whatever we did was just the wrong thing. It was like that this morning too, until we made a few changes in our trim upwind, and this made a big difference.”
Those changes showed beginning in Flight 4, starting with a win against top-ranked US match racer Don Wilson (USA) Chicago Match Race Center, followed by another win in Flight 5 against the ISAF #8-ranked Danish team led by Joachim Aschenbrenner and his Aschenbrenner Racing Team.
Suddenly the impossible became plausible, as the other teams wins and losses through Flight 5 started to bring into focus some scenarios where the Swedes could get through. In the building 8-12 knot breeze and steep 1-meter high waves on Lake Michigan, teams like Chris Steele (NZL) 36 Below Racing who had more time in the TOM 28's were beating their opponents through shear boathandling prowess and excellent timing.
Chris Steele (NZL) leading his team to 6 wins in Repechage – photo Ian Roman/AWMRT
Regardless, Hansen had to keep winning and get to 4 points to have a chance. But Hansen did it, with the final showdown lying ahead in Flight 7. He admitted a bit of good fortune helped their fate in Flight 6 against Mathieu Richard (FRA) LunaJets.
Hansen tangles with Richard at top mark in Flight 6 – photo Ian Roman/AWMRT
“In our match with Richard, we got a little lucky when Mathieu was downspeed with us at the top mark and hit a wave that caused him to stop and drift into the mark [to get a penalty], helping us to win that match.”
Looking to Flight 7, not only did Hansen have to beat Keith Swinton (AUS) Team Alpari FX, another strong team already through on five wins, but also have Wilson defeat Tom Slingsby (AUS) Team Tom Slingsby, because if Slingsby won he would go to four points as well and beat Hansen on the tie-break.
Don Wilson (USA) defeated Slingsby in last flight of the day – photo Ian Roman/AWMRT
In this final flight the breeze kicked up a notch to 15 knots, with a hint of right shift, and Hansen successfully controlled the right side off the start line and well into the first beat, shearing off the Aussies on the long starboard tack off the start. The hard part came on the next leg, when any boat trailing could find the right wave and surf ahead into an overlap to completely change the match.
But Hansen's team kept their cool, survived the attacks on the run, protected the right side on the next beat, and survived the final run to cross the line ahead by several lengths.
And Wilson did his part by defeating Slingsby, the team strategist on Team Oracle USA in the last America's Cup, by taking and winning the start and leading throughout the match to the finish. Slingsby agreed to race at the Chicago Match Cup in his quest to gain more match racing experience before the start of his campaign as part of Oracle Team USA in their quest to defend the next America's Cup.
When asked if he knew who would select him from the top four determined from the Qualifying Series yesterday, Hansen said he didn't know. But he did say who Canfield, the top seed from yesterday, should pick to tighten up the standings on the Tour leader board.
“We were talking amongst ourselves earlier and agreed Taylor should choose Ian [Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar],” said Hansen. “Taylor has raced here more than anyone and has the strongest chance to beat him.” The reason for this is that if successful, Williams would be deprived of a chance to go to the Semi-Finals and thus gaining more than the 14 points awarded a fifth place finisher for the event. With a 17-point lead over the current runner-up Richard, this would help compress the standings coming into the final run of two events in Holland and Bermuda and the season's finale in Malaysia.
Quarter Final racing will start tomorrow at 0930 CDT as a first-to-three point series, with pairings determined in the morning before racing.
1. Chris Steele (NZL) 36 Below Racing, 6-1
2. Mathieu Richard (FRA) LunaJets, 5-2
3. Keith Swinton (AUS) Team Alpari FX, 5-2
4. Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Sailing Team, 4-3
5. Tom Slingsby (AUS) Team Tom Slingsby, 3-4
6. Eric Monnin (SUI) Team Sailbox, 2-5
7. Don Wilson (USA), Chicago Match Race Center, 2-5
8. Joachim Aschenbrenner (DEN) Aschenbrenner Racing, 1-6
Taylor Canfield (ISV) US One
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar
Pierre Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing
Chris Steele (NZL) 36 Below Racing
Mathieu Richard (FRA) LunaJets
Keith Swinton (AUS) Team Alpari FX
Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Sailing Team