For all their many years of experience on the World Match Racing Tour, Johnie Berntsson (SWE), Flux Team, and Bjorn Hansen (SWE), Nautiska Racing were not expected to make it very far this week in Copenhagen.
But the wily old Swedes defied the odds to make it through to the Super 16 without having to submit themselves to the pressure of the Sail-Offs. Out of the four Qualifying Groups, Group 4 was the most competitive. Even Ian Williams (GBR), GAC Pindar struggled yesterday but today the six-time World Champion hit his stride to break clear. For the other four skippers trailing in Williams’ wake, it all came down to who beat who in the last of their seven heats.
Berntsson burst off the line to take the lead just when he needed it, his first race win propelling him to 2nd in his group just a point ahead of Hansen, whose 3rd place took him safely through to the Super 16 Knockout a point in front of Michael Hestbaek (DEN), Team Hydra. The Dane’s flashes of brilliance yesterday earned him two race wins, but he couldn’t repeat that kind of form today.
Much more surprising though was to see Hans Wallén (SWE), Wallén Racing, struggle, the Fremantle finalist not enjoying the softer breezes seen in Copenhagen so far. “These light winds are good for the new teams,” said the Olympic silver medallist. “There are not many multihull skills required in these conditions, so the learning curve is easier for them. It would be nice to have the stronger winds [like Fremantle] but I don’t think we’ll get them this week,” he shrugged philosophically.
While Wallén’s expectations are high, Hansen says he is just enjoying the ride, his first competitive outing on the M32 catamaran. “I think our experience counts for something although we have lost a large part of the tactics from the old style of match racing. This new kind of sailing needs a lot of strategy and fast decision making, which hopefully is something we already have from the match racing world.”
Berntsson puts his early success down to “a good team spirit” and an eagerness to soak up as many lessons as possible. “Any mistakes we make, we don’t get upset, we just store them in the knowledge bank as we try to learn how to sail these boats. We have zero multihull racing experience but one of the crucial things that helped us get into the boat so fast is that we’re used to learning new techniques and new boats from our years on the Tour. Even though the catamaran is different we understand the process of how to set up a boat for maximum speed.”
Other easy winners of their qualifying groups were Taylor Canfield (ISV), US One, and Mattias Rahm (SWE), Rahm Racing. It was a close battle for top honours between young gun Nicolai Sehested (DEN), Trefor Matchracing, and round-the-world veteran Yann Guichard (FRA), Spindrift Racing, but in the final race the fearless Dane got the better of his French rival and topped the group by a point.
After a slow start on day one, Sally Barkow (USA) and the all-girl crew on Team Magenta 32 started firing on all cylinders. They saved the very best for the last race of the day, pulling an aggressive luff on Taylor Canfield at the start, sticking a penalty on US One as they cruised away to an easy victory, their first of the World Match Racing Tour.
While Barkow enjoyed last year’s Volvo Ocean Race, she’s loving the short-course high-adrenalin competition on this year’s Tour. “You get on the race course and it’s just about ripping around the track. At any moment one of the girls will shout out about just how much fun they’re having. The Volvo was great but that long distance racing can get monotonous after a while. This is putting the fire back in us. This is a Tour that we’ve been trying to get on to for a really long time,” she added. “We’re older than we look. We figured this would be a good time to be in the learning game, to get into the M32s while everyone’s learning too.”
For Barkow and the others in the Super 16, tomorrow will be mostly a rest day, or a time to plan their strategy for the up-coming match racing. For all his match racing experience, Hansen professes to have little idea of what to expect. “We don’t have a clue what will come in the next few days, we’ve never done it before. But we hope our match race experience will help us somehow or another. I’m just jealous about all these young guys coming into this game from fast cats and 49ers. I wish I was 30 years younger. This is so fun to do, we’ve got a big smile on our faces, and we’re enjoying every moment.”
Wednesday is Sponsor Day, an opportunity to entertain corporate guests and VIPs, and then it’s time for the bottom eight teams to enter the Qualifying Sail-Offs, to see if they can fight their way through to the Super 16, the beginning of the knock-out phase of the competition.
Live coverage will be shown at www.wmrt.com from 1400 local Danish time
Copenhagen Results Day 2 – Qualifying
1. Nicolai Sehested (DEN), Trefor Matchracing – 13 pts 2. Yann Guichard (FRA), Spindrift Racing – 13 pts 3. Evan Walker(AUS), KA Match / CYCA – 23 pts 4. Nicklas Dackhammar(SWE), Dackhammar Racing – 25 pts 5. Mans Holmberg (SWE), Team Holmberg – 31 pts
1. Taylor Canfield (ISV), US One – 12 pts 2. Chris Steele( NZL), 36 Below Racing – 20 pts 3. Sally Barkow (USA), Team Magenta 32 – 20 pts 4. Joachim Aschenbrenner (DEN), Aschenbrenner Racing – 26 pts 5. Steven Thomas (AUS), Royal Perth Yacht Club – 27 pts
1. Mattias Rahm (SWE), Rahm Racing – 12 pts 2. Phil Robertson (NZL), Waka Racing – 20 pts 3. Iker Martinez (ESP), Team Espana – 22 pts 4. Eric Monnin (SUI), Albert Riele Swiss Team – 25 pts 5. Sam Gilmour (AUS), Neptune Racing – 30 pts
1. Ian Williams (GBR), GAC Pindar – 14 pts 2. Johnie Berntsson (SWE), Flux Team – 21 pts 4. Bjorn Hansen (SWE), Nautiska Racing – 22 pts 2. Michael Hestbaek (DEN), Team Hydra – 23 pts 4. Hans Wallén (SWE), Wallén Racing – 25 pts