The highly anticipated 2012 Alpari World Match Racing Tour gets underway at Match Race Germany this week where all the pre-season verbal jousting will give way to the world's best match racing action. While it's a chance to assess several of the teams' early season form, a number of new interesting subplots will begin to play out.
While much of the pre-season focus has been on Williams' bid to equal 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 raised this subplot after favouring Johnie Berntsson over Bjorn Hansen as his pick for the series. 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 [Berntsson]? 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."
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 Kiwi Laurie Jury now also holding a card, Robertson will also have to fight for the bragging rights back in New Zealand.
Another key subplot focuses on the challenge that awaits the crop of young sailors who have earned Tour Cards this season. Few would expect teams to compete at the top end of the leader board 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 World #3 in 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.
2012 Alpari World Match Racing Tour Calendar:
Stage 1: May 23 - 28 - Match Race Germany, Langenargen, Germany
Stage 2: May 29 - June 3 - Korea Match Cup, Gyeonggi, South Korea
Stage 3: July 2 - 7 - Stena Match Cup Sweden, Marstrand, Sweden
Stage 4: July 10 - 15 - Chicago Match Cup, Chicago, USA
Stage 5: July 24 - 29 - Portimao Portugal Match Cup, Portimao, Portugal
Stage 6: Aug 28 - Sep 2 - St. Moritz Match Race, St. Moritz, Switzerland
Stage 7: Sep 24 - 29 - Match Race France, Marseille, France
Stage 8: Oct 1 - 7 - Argo Group Gold Cup, Hamilton, Bermuda
Stage 9: Dec 4 - 9 - Monsoon Cup, K.Terengganu, Malaysia
Alpari World Match Racing Tour