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28 April 2009, 11:03 am
HANSEN Wins Open De España Match Race
Bjorn HANSEN sails to victory
Bjorn HANSEN sails to victory in the second race of the finals

Open De Espana Match Race 2009
Calpe, Spain

Swedish match racer Bjorn HANSEN and his OnBoard Sailing Team won the sixth edition of the ISAF Grade 1 Open de Espana Match Race in convincing fashion.
World #10 ranked skipper Bjorn HANSEN (SWE) triumphed after a final day that started with long delays waiting for the breeze, then light and shifty conditions and ending at 8:30pm with a 12 knots of easterly breeze.

When the first race got underway, both sailors went into an aggressive prestart that cost his rival Ian AINSLIE (RSA) a penalty. Nevertheless, the South African got the upper hand on the starting line and went off to the right with a slight advantage. Not only was he able to hold on to it, HANSEN slipped back in the second beat, giving AINSLIE ample room to offload the penalty at the finish line and win the first race.

Being one race down, HANSEN showed his aggressive match racing skills in the second start, squeezing AINSLIE behind the committee boat and holding him back. AINSLIE threw a fierce tacking duel in the first beat but half way up, umpires judged he tacked too close to Hansen, handing him a penalty. From that point he was unable to recover and with a penalty turn to do he would have to wait for the third and final race to decide the winner.

Before the start of the final race, and with night approaching fast, the breeze was rapidly dying down. Both sailors engaged in yet another close prestart whose clear winner was HANSEN. He got the side the wanted and crossed the starting line with better speed. AINSLIE stayed close behind him until the leeward mark, when sensing a left shift was coming, opted for the left side of the course while HANSEN stuck to the right. The call didn't pay off for AINSLIE because when the two Tom28 yachts converged once again after their huge separation, HANSEN was several boatlengths ahead. The Swede sailed safely and won the race and the overall trophy.

After getting eliminated by AINSLIE in the semi finals, Damien IEHL (FRA), winner of the ISAF Nations Cup Grand Final in Brazil last month, put in a commanding performance over Eugeniy NEUGODNIKOV (RUS) to win the petit final. The Russian match racer proved to be an easy opponent for the French who claimed the third place overall with a 2-0 victory.

Earlier in the day HANSEN had taken on NEUGODNIKOV, whilst AINSLIE faced off against IEHL in the semi finals. Unlike the other match HANSEN and NEUGODNIKOV didn't suffer as much as AINSLIE and IEHL from the fluky and shifty conditions. Even if at times they had to sail in a flickering breeze or face huge shifts, none of their races was cancelled. The first race took place under light yet acceptable conditions. Despite the intense and aggressive prestart, Hansen crossed the starting line with a clear advantage on the right side of the course and managed to hold on to his lead until the end.

As the breeze was dying and shifting right, the second race was a simple question of who was to call tactics more accurately. It was HANSEN that correctly picked the right and his lead grew to frustrating levels for NEUGODNIKOV. He crossed the finish line when the Russian and his crew had just hoisted their spinnaker after rounding the top mark.

The close and intense racing and the exasperating wind conditions turned the second semifinal between AINSLIE and IEHL into a nail-biting drama. AINSLIE won the first race in a convincing manner, leading his opponent from the start. After crossing the finish line the two crews were forced to endure more than an hour of frustrated attempts by the race committee to set a proper race course and get the second match going. Racing was abandoned twice and with the time limit approaching fast, the race officers were considering the option of declaring AINSLIE the winner in order to start the finals.

Finally, at around 18:00 the breeze kicked in and the second match started with IEHL squeezing AINSLIE in the pre start, forcing him to tack twice on the start line. The French team went off with a clear advantage that AINSLIE was unable to overcome.

With the two teams tied and a steady breeze of 12 knots, we were guaranteed a close and exciting race and that was the case. Not only during the intense pre-start where AINSLIE got the upper hand but also in the first beat, where we counted 12 tacks. IEHL was throwing all the tacks he could but AINSLIE held on and won the race and the ticket to the final.

Results - click here

The Open De Espana Match Race is one of the Qualifier event for the World Match Racing Tour and HANSEN's victory secures his place at St Moritz Match Race from 1-6 September 2009.

Antonio Lamadrid
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