The Danish Open, the seventh event on the 2009 World Match Racing Tour, sets sail on Thursday off Aarhus, marking a symbolic return of match racing to Denmark's second largest city.
For it was here, on the Jutland peninsula's east coast, some 3.5 hours from Copenhagen, where Denmark's powerful match racing circuit has its roots.
"From the harbour of Marselisborg, match racing grew rapidly around Denmark, and fostered great talents like Jesper Radich, Sten Mohr, Jes Gram-Hansen and many others," recalls Morten Lorenzen, CEO of the Royal Danish Yacht Club, hosts of the Danish Open.
As ever the 12 skippers, presently drawing up their battle lines, represent a strong mix headed by the young antipodean blades Torvar Mirsky
from Australia and New Zealand's Adam Minoprio
. Last week Minoprio won the St Moritz Match Race in a final against Mirsky and is the present leader in the 2009 World Match Racing Tour, whose winner will be crowned ISAF Match Racing World Champion. They will face Britain's Ian Williams
, the 2008 and 2009 World Champion, currently fourth in the World Tour Standings, and a powerful entry from France in third-placed Mathieu Richard
, and sixth-placed Damien Iehl
and Sébastien Col
, skipper of the K-Challenge America's Cup team. From neighbouring Sweden comes Mattias Rahm
, who following his time as strategist for Victory Challenge during the last America's Cup, won Match Cup Sweden last year.
Lending some gravitas to proceedings will once again be Cup legend and four-time World Champion Peter Gilmour
(AUS). "Denmark has a great heritage in match racing," says Gilmour of the Danish Open. "Then there is the DS37 boat, which is a bit of a favourite of mine. I love sailing them. You have to sail them properly to get around the race course - any slips of performance or skill and they penalise you quite harshly."
Gilmour reckons he has won the Danish Open two or three times over his many previous participations, which have also included being beaten by Denmark's most famous match racer, triple Soling Olympic medallist Jesper Bank
, and on another occasion beating treble America's Cup winning skipper, Russell Coutts
(NZL). However this will be his first time racing in the Danish Open's new home, Aarhus, something Gilmour reckons will favour the local skippers, initially at least.
For a strong cast of Danes is also competing including Peter Wibroe
, a Tour regular, and special Wild Card Jonas Warrer
, who is not. Warrer with Martin Kirketerp Ibsen
, won the 49er gold for Denmark at the Beijing Olympics, in unusual circumstances when they snapped the mast of their boat shortly before the start of the Medal Race and hastily had to borrow a replacement boat belonging to another team.
"They will try their skills in the aggressive discipline of match racing," says Morten Lorenzen. "Coming from Aarhus, and with in-depth knowledge of the waters off Marselisborg, Jonas and Martin are keen to show the stars one or two tricks. They have practised match racing hard and intensely, and are focusing on one match at a time. For sure they know what it takes to win gold - and they will go for all or nothing, just like in Qingdao in 2008."
The local line-up also features one of the original stars of the Danish match racing school: Jes Gram-Hansen
. Gram-Hansen competed in the last America's Cup with Mascalzone Latino and now spends much of his sailing time on the Farr 40 circuit. He competed in three Tour events in 2008, culminating in St Moritz.
For Gram-Hansen, the Danish Open venue represents a homecoming, for while he now lives in Spain, Aarhus is where he grew up and is also where he learned to match race. He says he is less certain of whether local knowledge will pay as it is has been some 10 years since he sailed there regularly. He has recently set up his own match race practice centre in a nearby marina in Aarhus with his long term sailing partner Rasmus Kostner
, who is also racing with him at the Danish Open, along with a posse of ex-Cup sailors including towering Jann Neergaard
and Martin Krite
, both fresh from Ericsson Racing Team's Nordic entry in the Volvo Ocean Race. "I am probably the weakest link!" says Gram-Hansen. "Basically we have the attitude and we have done practice for this event, I feel if we sail well, have a bit of luck we could win, but definitely the other Danish guys are doing well."
Weather permitting, the format for the Danish Open is a round robin over Thursday and into Saturday, followed by semi-finals and culminating in the finals on Sunday.
"Last year Aarhus hosted the ISAF Youth Worlds, which was a huge success for the sailors and for the organizers, Sailing Aarhus," concludes Morten Lorenzen. "This event paved the way for more major sailing events in Aarhus, supported by the City. Royal Danish Yacht Club and Sailing Aarhus are working together to create a first class event on the World Match Racing Tour.
"As organizers we are looking forward to show the world a new match racing arena in Aarhus - and to show the citizens of Aarhus some great racing, just in front of the marina in Marselisborg."
(NZL), ETNZ/ BlackMatch
(AUS), Mirsky Racing Team
(FRA), French Match Racing Team
(GBR), Team Pindar
(AUS), YANMAR Racing
(FRA), French match Racing Team
(FRA), French Match Racing Team/ K Challenge
(DEN), Wibroe Sailing Team
(DEN), Trifork Racing Team
(SWE), Stena Bulk Sailing Team
(NZL), WAKA Racing
ISAF Match Racing World Championship Leaderboard
(Top eight teams after Stage 6 of 9)
1. Adam Minoprio (NZL), ETNZ/BlackMatch, 86 points
2. Torvar Mirsky (AUS), Mirsky Racing Team, 74 points
3. Mathieu Richard (FRA), French Match Racing Team, 68 points
4. Ian Williams (GBR), Bahrain Team Pindar, 64 points
5. Peter Gilmour (AUS), YANMAR Racing, 62 points
6. Damien Iehl (FRA), French Match Racing Team, 44 points
7. Sébastien Col (FRA), French Match Racing Team / K-Challenge, 41 points
8. Ben Ainslie (GBR), Team Origin, 40 points
The winner of the annual World Match Racing Tour is crowned as ISAF Match Racing World Champion. Find out more at www.sailing.org/matchworlds.