Johnie Berntsson will line up against the 19 other teams at this week's Argo Group Gold Cup in Bermuda knowing that he must continue his impressive form at the event in order to secure his place at the Alpari World Match Racing Tour (AWMRT) season-finale, the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia. At one of his favoured events on the Tour, he's confident that his team can succeed under pressure.
The 2008 event Champion faces a challenge to his automatic participation at the Monsoon Cup from young Australian William Tiller (AUS) Full Metal Jacket Racing, who has put himself within reach of a starting berth after a good set of results, which could see him placed as high as seventh in the overall AWMRT leaderboard next week. Tiller needs to finish significantly ahead of the Swede to give himself the best chance of a place at the season-ending event but Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team suggested that he won't be drawn into a head-to-head battle, saying, "[Will] Tiller might be looking at our team if he needs to beat us to go to Monsoon Cup and maybe it could make the choices interesting if we have a chance to pick each other in the knockout stages.
"We'll both have it [overall leaderboard] in mind I think but during racing it will not be a focus at all. We'll concentrate on our own team and see where that takes us."
His focus will remain on his own team and there is confidence in the camp that they can secure strong late-season results as they did in 2011, when going on to achieve a third-place podium position. Berntsson, continued, "It is an important event to ensure our place Monsoon Cup but we don't think so much about the overall Tour result. So far we're definitely not happy with the season but here in Bermuda, we know we have the potential to go all the way. We'll deliver some good sailing and in the past, that has brought wins."
Berntsson has competed at the Bermuda Gold Cup five times, his first appearance coming in 2007. In that time he has become one of the favourites for the island spectators who turn out to see the world's top match racers do battle from their base at Hamilton Harbour. Speaking of his history at the Argo Group Gold Cup, Berntsson, said, "We won the event in 2008 and came second to Torvar [Mirsky] last year so it is certainly a regatta that we enjoy and do well at. We've done this event for a few of years so we're familiar with the boats and enjoy the challenge of the shifty winds. It's not the easiest place to find a fast way around the race course.
"The special thing about this event is that there are 20 teams here, making it much tougher to get the win. You don't know what you're facing with some of the guys because there are a few you won't have met before.
"It [Argo Group Gold Cup] attracts great sailors. Some of the best up and coming guys go up against the best in the world. I remember the first time we came here we got a top eight and that was a real surprise. It's a challenge to keep making it to the latter stages."
Tiller fancies his chances of causing an upset and feels that his team have done enough this season to deserve a crack at the Tour's showcase event. He said, "We just missed out on a Tour Card this year to Laurie Jury so we've been competing at a lot of grade 1 and grade 2 events, including anything we could go to qualify for Tour events.
"If we'd done a full season on the Tour this year, we're confident that we could have done well and that's been proved with some of our results so far.
"We've got some good notes on the Argo Group Gold Cup from the old professionals Chris Dixon and Russell Coutts and we've put in some good training so we shouldn't be too far off the pace."
The other competing Tour Card Holders, Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar and Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team, also have their own head-to-head battle lined up for Hamilton Harbour, Bermuda. A win at last week's Match Race France in Marseille propelled Williams back into the AWMRT title race and back into contention for a record fourth ISAF Match Racing World Championship.
The pair both already have a strong sets of results which will count towards their final score but having won the bigger point scoring events - Korea Match Cup and STENA Match Cup Sweden - Hansen's Mekonomen team will take a slight advantage from the average points calculated after the AGGC in Bermuda. As a result of the Portimao Portugal Match Cup withdrawal from the calendar, which Hansen had allocated as one of five point-scoring events, a score for that regatta will be attributed as an average of all of his other point-scoring events.
Despite not adding any points to his own total for the year at the Argo Group Gold Cup, Hansen will be looking to prevent his opponent from bettering his record by progressing to the event Final. However, as the Tour-experienced skipper knows from previous encounters with the reigning ISAF Match Racing World Champion, that is quite a task.
The local challenge will be led by Bermuda National Champion Blythe Walker (BER), who first competed at the Gold Cup in 1988 and is the most experienced in the field at sailing the IOD boats. He will be joined by 19 year-old Lance Fraser (BER) Fraser Digicell Match Racing Team who competes for a third consecutive year, having been the youngest ever competitor in 2010.
The Argo Group Gold Cup first Qualifying Session will start on Tuesday 2 October from 09:00 local time. Live updates are available at:
Tour regular Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/wmrt
Live event Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/wmrt_liverace
Live broadcast coverage of all the action will be available online at www.wmrt.com/live
from Friday 5 October. TV listings are available at http://www.wmrt.com/live/tv-schedule.html
Argo Group Gold Cup, Hamilton Harbour, Bermuda - Competing Skippers:
Alpari World Match Racing Tour Standings - After 6 Stages:
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar - 102
Björn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team - 93
Keith Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing - 79
Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing - 71
Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team - 71
Laurie Jury (NZL) Kiwi Match Sailing - 65
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing Team - 56
William Tiller (NZL) Full Metal Jacket Racing - 37
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team - 35
Simone Ferrarese (ITA) Ferrarese Racing Team - 29