Hans Wallén bounced back from a slow start in Marstrand to win his last two Qualifying heats and earn a place in the Super 16 of the World Championship Finals of the World Match Racing Tour.
Today was the second and final day of the fleet racing phase of the competition, with 20 international teams divided into four groups of five. For the bottom two in each of those groups, they go into Wednesday’s Sail Offs to determine which four teams live to fight another day in the competition, and which four go home early.
The 55-year-old Wallén started the Tour season in startlingly good fashion, battling his way through to the final of the first event in Australia. But since then the Olympic silver medallist from Sweden has struggled, including the early stages of this week. “We were lacking confidence, we weren’t getting the right spirit in the boat,” said Wallén. “The first two races of today, our heads weren’t in the right place but then I said, ‘It’s time for us to behave like winners, for us to approach the start like we own it.’ So that’s what we did, and it worked.”
The Swede finished 2nd in his Group behind the imperious Taylor Canfield and US One who were making it look easy. The young Steve Thomas from Australia claimed the final guaranteed spot in the Super 16, relegating two more experienced Swedish skippers – Mattias Rahm and Björn Hansen – to the Sail Offs. Even if Hansen has won the previous four Match Cup Sweden regattas at this spectacular island venue, the ‘Master of Marstrand’ is not surprised to find himself at the bottom of the order this year. “We haven’t sailed the M32 that much, and we’re still struggling, still developing, and having extreme fun. We’re discussing each manoeuvre, trying new things, and we tacked differently in all four races. But we’re getting better; we averaged 5th yesterday, averaged 3rd today, so maybe tomorrow we will average 1st!”
Hansen will be battling with Rahm for survival in the competition. When Wallén was asked which of his two fellow Swedes would make it through, he said: “I’m definitely going to cheer for Björn, he’s my friend. Mattias gets so nervous – even though he has sailed the M32 five years. Bjorn has the guts, and he knows that Mattias gets nervous, so he needs to take advantage of that. Björn is the cool guy.”
Out of all four Qualifying Groups, Yann Guichard’s dominance of his fleet was the most impressive. The Frenchman won five out of the eight heats, finishing on 12 points to Phil Robertson’s 24 points, the New Zealander taking 2nd place, just a point ahead of Matt Jerwood from Perth. The young Australian was delighted to have made it through to the Super 16. “It’s our best performance of the season so far, and it was nice to win a race today,” he said.
Iker Martinez also won five heats in what was arguably the toughest Group of the draw. The 49er Olympic Champion and Volvo Ocean Race veteran relegated one of the hot favourites, Denmark’s Nicolai Sehested, to 2nd, with Nicklas Dackhammar of Sweden in 3rd.
Racing in the lighter winds of the afternoon, Ian Williams came through his Group in good shape, beating Chris Steele of New Zealand and Sam Gilmour of Australia. However, the GAC Pindar skipper had a wobbly last race – starting over the line early and picking up an umpire penalty. Watching from the shore, arch rival Taylor Canfield speculated that maybe the reigning World Champion was looking to ‘throw’ a race on purpose. “Maybe Ian’s thinking about who he wants to line up against in the Semi Finals,” said Canfield. But Williams, asked if that’s what he’d been up to, said he didn’t deserve that much credit for being clever enough to know the permutations and implications. “It might have looked like we were trying to lose,” he laughed, “but no, we were just making a bit of a mess of the start and picking up that penalty.”
Whoever Williams faces in the latter stages – assuming he makes it that far – is unlikely to be a pushover. The game moves on with every event and teams that were struggling to challenge the favourites at the start of the season are now posing a regular threat. With every day that passes, the chance of winning the $1 million prize bonus for the victor of Marstrand draws closer. The tension is building.
Wednesday’s schedule starts with the bottom eight teams competing in the Qualifying Sail Offs, to see if they can fight their way through to the Super 16 and the knock-out phase of the competition.
Live coverage will be shown at www.wmrt.com from 1400 local Swedish time.