Current Alpari World Match Racing Tour leader Bjorn Hansen believes that anything less than a Semi Final appearance from either himself or main rival Ian Williams at the Monsoon Cup will end their challenge for the Tour title this season.
Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team maintains top spot ahead of Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar due to his early season successes at the Korea Match Cup and Match Cup Sweden, which powered him to the top of the leaderboard. The Swede goes into the Monsoon Cup with favourable head-to-head stats of 9-5 against his closest rival, the pair having battled to lead the overall standings for the majority of the season. Hansen, said, "Realistically, I think one of Ian's [Williams] team or mine will take the title this year because if you look back over the season, there has only been one event in which both of us have failed to make the Semi Final, and that's what it is going to take for the overall Tour victory."
At the St. Moritz Match Race, Hansen ensured Williams' elimination at the qualifying stage by beating him in the very last race but then failed to capitalise, getting eliminated himself in the Quarter Finals. Williams feels that that result kept him in the hunt, saying, "St. Moritz was very significant. It left Bjorn [Hansen] with a chance to go on and pick up some big points in the knowledge we'd been knocked out and it might have actually sealed the overall victory for him. Luckily for us he didn't go past the Quarter Final and we've since been able to get the points needed to catch up."
Hansen feels that it would be fitting to see the two top teams of the season so far go head-to-head in the knockout stages in Malaysia. He said, "We are neck and neck going into this event and in a dream scenario, the Final race at the Monsoon Cup would be us against Ian [Williams] with us taking the victory. However, we know that there are 10 other teams there that will also be desperate for a good result."
Twelve years after first competing at a Tour event, Hansen has never been closer to capturing the title. He outlined just what victory would mean to his team, saying, "No Swedish team has ever won the ISAF Match Racing World Championship and this year is the best chance that we as a team have had to secure the title. We feel comfortable with the five man teams at the Monsoon Cup and it is an exciting thing for us. We know that we can sail well in Malaysia but you always have to hope that the week goes your way too."
Reigning Tour Champion Ian Williams won the Monsoon Cup in 2011 and along with Hansen and Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing, is one of the skippers with the experience of having battled through several Tour campaigns. He said, "We've been to the Monsoon Cup four times with a realistic chance of taking the overall Tour title and having experienced that position previously, I think it gives the team the knowledge of how to deal with the situation in the best possible way. We'll have the same preparation as we did before our victory last year so we will be ready.
"I think in Malaysia, any of the 12 teams there can affect the result and everyone will be trying to win the regatta. All the teams are keen to add as many points as possible to their total on the Tour leaderboard and if that means eliminating Bjorn [Hansen] or us, then I'm sure they'll take that opportunity."
Williams has recently been shortlisted by both the Yachting Journalists Association and Yachts & Yachting for their respective 'Sailor of the Year' awards, testament to his continued impressive form this year. The Brit has finished on the podium in five of the six Tour events that he has competed in, taking dominant victories at the Chicago Match Cup and Match Race France. Referring to his results this season, Williams suggests he is happy with the way his team have performed throughout a tough season, saying, "We've been really consistent and have made the podium at five out of six events. Despite having to chase down a big gap from early in the year, I always expected to be back within shooting distance in time for the Monsoon Cup. That consistency has held us in very good stead."
The Monsoon Cup, Malaysia's second biggest sports event of the year, will take place on 3-8 December at the Ri-Yaz Heritage Marina Resort & Spa, Pulau Duyong, Kuala Terengganu.
For a taster of the upcoming action, visit: http://www.youtube.com/worldmrt
Follow the Monsoon Cup online from 3rd to 8th December at http://www.wmrt.com/live.html
Tour regular Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/wmrt
Live event Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/wmrt_liverace
Current standings: http://www.wmrt.com/result/leaderboard.html
Monsoon Cup - Competing Teams:
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar
Keith Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing
Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing
Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team
Laurie Jury (NZL) Kiwi Match
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team
Adam Minoprio (NZL) BlackMatch
Taylor Canfield (USVI) USone
David Gilmour (AUS) Team Gilmour