The eagerly anticipated start to the 2012 Alpari World Match Racing Tour is just over seven weeks away and with established names set to be pitted alongside a new breed of Tour Card Holder, old rivalries will be rekindled and new ones ignited this season.
The story of 2012 could not have been better written for Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar. After early season dominance from Francesco Bruni (ITA) and then Torvar Mirsky (ITA), he rose to the top, winning two events before capturing the Monsoon Cup and his third ISAF Match Racing World Championship. It was a first class performance amongst a stellar cast of Tour Card Holders that included Olympic, America's Cup and World Championship winning sailors.
This season presents the Brit with a new challenge though. While he'll renew rivalries with established figures like four-time World Champion Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing and the Swedish duo of Johnie Berntsson (Berntsson Sailing Team) and Bjorn Hansen (Mekonomen Sailing Team), there are a number of new faces who have earned a place on the Tour.
Tour Director, Craig Mitchell, who shaped the list of nine Tour Card Holders, believes it's this mix of the experienced with the up and coming that will make this season a hugely compelling one for match racing fans.
"The Alpari World Match Racing Tour has always partly been about nurturing the finest young skippers from around the world and this year is no different. These guys are raw talent, hungry and want to get their names out there and the best way to do that is to beat the sport's established superstars. Those superstars know that because they've done it themselves."
The new Tour Card Holders for the 2012 season are Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team, Simone Ferrarese (ITA) Ferrarese Racing Team, Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team, Laurie Jury (NZ) Zoke Kiwi Match and Keith Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing. While relatively inexperienced compared to the likes of reigning Champion Williams and Gilmour - with seven World Championships between them - Mitchell believes we should not be at all surprised if they take a few big scalps and event wins.
"The likes of Pierre-Antoine Morvan have been knocking on the door for four or five years now - he's a top five sailor in the ISAF rankings and could well have won the St. Moritz Match Race last season had the wind not failed on the final day. He's here on merit and will be a contender, not just for individual races but events too. The more seasoned professionals will certainly be weary of him."
The Alpari World Match Racing Tour has revised its Card Holder policy for 2012 - all Card Holders will now receive automatic invites to 5 events (instead of 6) with their best 4 results (instead of best 5) counting towards their Championship campaign plus the points they score at the final event, the Monsoon Cup. Meanwhile, non-Tour Card Holders will accumulate points towards their Championship quest from their first 4 events.
Time will tell if Williams can continue his winning form, if Gilmour, Berntsson and Hansen can bring more consistency to their racing and if these new Tour Card Holders can create a few upsets, but fans will not have long to wait.
Match Race Germany kicks off the season with racing from 24 May and sits back-to-back with the Korea Match Cup where the action starts on 30 May. As well as aiming to capture the ISAF Match Racing World Championship, the teams will once again be competing for the largest prize purse in world sailing - US$1.75 million.