Denmark's Jes Gram-Hansen and his Team Victory Lane defeated Sweden's Mattias Rahm and Team StoraEnso 2-1, in a thrilling, down-to-the-wire, three match final at the Danish Open 2002 to claim their first Swedish Match Tour victory.
"The whole team is so happy to have finally broken through and to have done it in front of all our friends and family is icing on the cake" an elated, exhausted Gram-Hansen said. "A lot of hard work paid off today."
In front of the more than 3,000 spectators who lined the Skovshoved Harbor seawall and before a full KDY/SKS Match Race Center pavilion, Gram-Hansen and Rahm put on a match racing exhibition during a penalty-free final.
"Mattias sailed great today. He was very aggressive in the starts which surprised me a bit," admitted Gram-Hansen. "He and his crew really put pressure on us. Additionally, early on I didn't feel my timing was very sharp, but I knew we had come back before and I had confidence (after losing the first match) that we could do it again."
Their appearance in the Danish Open 2002 final was their second on the Swedish Match Tour. Previously, Gram-Hansen and crew qualified for the finals of the this past March's Steinlager/Line 7 Cup in Auckland only to have the finals cancelled due to lack of wind and have the championship awarded to their opponent, Oracle BMW Racing's Peter Holmberg, on countback.
As an added bonus, their win moves Gram-Hansen and his Victory Lane crew of Michael Arnlund, Rasmus Kostner, Christian Camp and Jens Dolmer to the top of the Swedish Match Tour 2002/2003 Rankings with 43 total points.
"It's been three years on the Swedish Match Tour for us and to finally break through and move to the top of the rankings is very special," said Gram-Hansen. "We really started at the bottom with many disappointing results, but now we're sailing and winning as a team."
In the first match Gram-Hansen stalked Rahm around the pre-start area with Rahm winning the game of time and distance. After 25 meters up the course Gram-Hansen split to the right, initiating a tacking duel. Rahm won the first cross and immediately tacked away. The strategy paid off as Rahm managed a one boat length lead at the first windward mark rounding, building the lead down the windward leg to 15 seconds at the leeward mark rounding, a lead he would protect for the remainder of the race.
In the second match, the boats dialed up with the bow of Rahm's boat breaking the head-to-wind. The two yachts then wove between the numerous boats gathered along the periphery of the start area, working their way back for a split start with Rahm going to the right and Gram-Hansen off to the left. "After the first match we determined that the left side of the course was favorable and we decided that no matter what we would go for the pin end side at the start," said Gram-Hansen.
Victory Lane chose wisely as they won the first cross handily and enjoyed a 20 second advantage at the windward mark rounding. At the leeward mark, Rahm picked up a couple of seconds and engaged Gram-Hansen in a tacking duel up the leg.
The strategy worked, in Gram-Hansen's favor, as the Danish team increased their lead to 25 seconds and sailed for the line to even the finals.
In the third and final match, after an aggressive starting sequence Gram-Hansen again went for the pin end of the line resulting in an eight second lead over Rahm at the first windward mark rounding. Downwind the slim margin remained. Rahm again engaged Gram-Hansen in a tacking duel trying to chip away at the Victory Lane lead. On the final windward leg Rahm managed to close Gram-Hansen's lead to mere meters, catching a strong puff of breeze 100 meters from the line before losing by a bow-length.
In the one match petit finals, Finland's Staffan Lindberg of Team Musto defeated Denmark's Lars Nordbjaerg to claim third place and a measure of satisfactions.
Recapping the semi-finals, after losing his opening match to Lindberg, while copping a penalty in the pre-start, Rahm battled back to win the second and force a third and deciding match. Rahm won the start and chose the left side of the course, won the first cross, tacked back to the left and built boat speed off the good pressure he found there, resulting in a slim lead at the first windward mark rounding. On the downwind leg Rahm stayed clear of Lindberg's blocking attempts and increased his lead to 20 seconds at the leeward mark rounding. From there Rahm avoided any trouble and sailed into the finals.
Gram-Hansen opened his semifinal against Nordbjaerg by defeating the product of the KDY/SKS Match Race Center to go up 1-0. Nordbjaerg answered in the second match to force a third and deciding confrontation. In the third match Nnordbjaerg enjoyed a slight advantage at the start but Gram-Hansen found better wind and managed to close the gap on his countryman, eventually overtaking him on the first downwind leg, building a one boat length lead at the leeward mark rounding. The race stayed close upwind with Nordbjaerg remaining within a boat length at the windward mark rounding. The Victory Lane crew then proceeded down the final leg, just nipping Nordbjaerg and his team at the line
In sail-offs action for fifth place, which featured two local favorites, Henrik Jensen defeated Jesper Radich. Radich's sixth place finish gave him eight Swedish Match Tour rankings points and increased his overall points total to 28, x place overall.
In the other sail-off, for seventh place, Great Britain's Chris Law and the Outlaws defeated Sweden's Bjorn Hansen of GOL Sailing to claim seventh place and the six Swedish Match Tour rankings points accompanying it. The six points increased Law's overall Swedish Match Tour rankings point total to 31 and moved him into a tie for second place with James Spithill of the OneWorld Challenge, who did not contest the regatta.
In the conclusion of round robin racing Gram-Hansen defeated Sweden's Michael Lindquist in his first match to to increase his total to eight and into a three-way tie with Nordbjaerg and Rahm for first. Lindberg advanced to the semis after losing his first match of the morning to Sweden's Bjorn Hansen of Team GOL Sailing, but rebounding to defeate France's Mathieu Richard and advance on countback over Radich and Denmark's Henrik Jensen, who also had six wins.
As top qualifier, based on his record over Gram-Hansen and Nordbjaerg, Rahm chose Lindberg as his opponent in the first-to-two-points semifinals, leaving the Danes to square off in the other semifinal.
Championship Sunday brought to the conclusion a fantastic week of racing on Skovshoved Harbor. "It's always difficult when you depend on the weather for the success of your event," said Danish Open 2002 chairman Morten Lorenzen. "We're lucky to have excellent race course management that can react to any conditions and give the sailors fair racing and the spectators an excellent experience. You always remember the last day of a regatta and this year will be remebered as being excellent."
After a very light day on Saturday, the event was blessed with a 6-8 knot easterly on Sunday that allowed the race committee to send the boats out early to complete the round robin. For the finals, the breeze built to 10 knots resulting in exciting racing conditions on the Oresund.
The Swedish Match Tour's next event is the ADT Gold Cup, hosted by the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, beginning October 14.
1.Jes Gram-Hansen, DEN/Team Victory Lane
2.Mattias Rahm, SWE/Team StoraEnso
3. Staffan Lindberg, FIN/Team Musto
4. Lars Nordbjaerg, DEN/Team Nordbjaerg
5.Henrick Jensen, Denmark
6. Jesper Radich, Denmark
7. Chris Law, GBR/the Outlaws
8. Bjorn Hansen, SWE/GOL Sailing
9. Michael Lindquist, Sweden
10. Mathieu Richard, France
11.Gustav Nilsson, Sweden
12.Scott Walton, Australia
SWEDISH MATCH TOUR 2002/2003 RANKINGS
1.Jes Gram-Hansen, DEN/Team Victory Lane 43 pts
2= Chris Law, GBR/The Oultaws 31 pts
2= James Spithill, OneWorld Challenge 31 pts
4.Ed Baird, USA/Team Musto 30 pts
5.Jesper Radich, Denmark 28 pts
6.Mattias Rahm, SWE/Team StoraEnso 20 pts
7.Lars Nordbjaerg, DEN/Team Nordbjaerg 18 pts
8. Peter Gilmour, USA/Team Pizza La 15 pts
Staffan Lindberg, FIN/Team Musto 15 pts
DANISH OPEN 2002 FINALS
Rahm def. Gram-Hansen
Gram-Hansen def. Rahm
Gram-Hansen def. Rahm
Lindberg def. Nordbjaerg
Lindberg def. Rahm
Gram-Hansen def. Nordbjaerg
Rahm def. Lindberg
Nordbjaerg def. Gram-Hansen
Rahm def. Lindberg
Gram-Hansen def. Nordbjaerg
Places 5 & 6
Jensen def. Radich
Places 7 & 8
Law def. Hansen
ROUND ROBIN LEADERBOARD
Skipper Wins Losses
1. Mattias Rahm, SWE/Team StoraEnso 8 3
2. Lars Nordbjaerg, Denmark 8 3
3.Jes Gram-Hansen, DEN/Team Victory Lane 8 3
4.Staffan Lindberg, Finland 6 5
5. Jesper Radich, Denmark 6 5
6. Henrik Jensen, Denmark 6 5
7. Bjorn Hansen, SWE/Team GOL Sailing 5.5 5
8. Chris Law, GBR/The Outlaws 5.5 5
9. Michael Lindquist, Sweden 5 6
10. Mathieu Richard, France 4 7
11.Gustav Nilsson, Sweden 3 8
12.Scott Walton, Australia 0 11
Round Robin Results
Hansen def. Lindberg
Radich def. Richard
Gram-Hansen def. Lindquist
Lindberg def. Richard
Lindquist def. Hansen
Radich def. Gram-Hansen