As winner for the past two years, Bjorn Hansen is widely tipped for another strong showing at the Korea Match Cup which kicks off on 29 May at Hwaeseong City in Gyeonggi Province.
The second event of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour seems to suit the Swede's style, with the weight-sensitive KM36 keelboats and the tight race course reminding him of sailing at Marstrand back in his homeland.
In a high quality line-up of 12 international teams, one of the biggest threats to a hat trick for Hansen Sailing Team will be GAC Pindar skippered by reigning Alpari World Match Racing Tour Champion, Ian Williams from Great Britain. This is the only event on the Tour that Williams has never won, although he did win Match Race Germany for the first time just a week ago, so perhaps he could do it again in Korea. "We've got the most consistent record here - four 2nds and a 3rd - so if we make the final this year we just need to make sure we come up with a way of finishing it off."
As for Hansen, Williams said, "Bjorn is very strong here, the boats suit his style, and there's a lot hanging on the start."
The shifty breeze could make the competition wide open, with other teams from France, Australia, Korea and the US Virgin Islands looking to make their mark.
WAKA Racing skippered by New Zealander Phil Robertson has been training with the Swedes over the past couple of days. "Bjorn knows the boats very well and his crew work is really slick, so he'll be tough to beat. But we've got a bit of steel in our eyes, coming away from 9th last week in Match Race Germany which we're real disappointed about. We're ready to give it everything this week.
"The big challenge here is the tight race course, with limited passing lanes, so the starts are crucial. But it's quite shifty as well and there are some big holes - a really tricky race course, possibly the hardest on the Tour,"
said Robertson who enjoys racing the KM36. "The boats are really weight sensitive because they're light in the keel. The guys can roll the boat a lot and get a lot of performance out of it, so the whole weight trimming is very important."
Fellow Kiwi Adam Minoprio is finding his way back into the match racing scene after his sabbatical racing around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race. A 2nd place in Germany suggests it won't take Minoprio long to get back to top form. "After coming back from the Volvo we've been putting some effort into the training, and hopefully we can step it up from Germany."
Minoprio also places Hansen among the toughest of contenders here, although the Swede is shy of being considered the favourite. "I don't know if we're in pole position, it's such tight racing all over the world wherever we go,"
said the Stockholm sailor. "The margins are so small, in last year's final we had a bit of luck getting past Ian Williams on the last downwind. You have to have a good week, and if you don't have a good week you could end up 12th.
"But we like this place, we like Asia, and we like the boats and the venue. I tend to like areas where it's quite narrow, where I can easily find my way on the race course. And it's great to see how the venue has been developed since last year. The new clubhouse is fantastic, I couldn't believe it when I arrived, it has just popped up from nowhere!"
The new clubhouse is just the latest phase of large-scale development of Jeongok Harbour, as the Governor of Gyeonggi Province, Kim Moon soo, explained, "Hosting the Korea Match Cup is helping highlight Jeongok Harbour as an emerging Mecca of marine leisure and yachting for north-east Asia."
Executive Director of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, James Pleasance, said, "It's great to be carrying on the action so soon after Match Race Germany, moving the competition to this excellent venue for the Korea Match Cup. You can see by how much things have changed since last year that sailing has really taken hold in Korea. This event is an important stage on the Tour because Asia is becoming an increasingly relevant market, both for its sporting and marine tourism opportunities."
Stage 2: Korea Match Cup Skipper Entry List
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar
Adam Minoprio (NZL) Team Alpari FX
Mathieu Richard (FRA) GEFCO Match Racing Team
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Stena Sailing Team
Taylor Canfield (ISV) USone
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Sailing Team SWE
Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing
Keith Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing
David Gilmour (AUS) Team Gilmour
Gunwoo Park (KOR) Busan Match Team
Kim Taejeong (KOR) Match Game