Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jes Gram-Hansen shines in difficult opening day at the Danish Open

[Source: World Match Racing Tour] Uncharacteristic summery conditions for September in Aarhus, Denmark were perhaps a little too summery for the opening day of the Danish Open, organised by the Royal Danish Yacht Club. The wind off Marselisborg Havn was not only from the northwest, and offshore, but in the morning it was painfully light too, making for a day of extreme challenges for the opening matches of the round robin.

Aboard the familiar DS37 yachts that are regularly used at the top match racing events in Scandinavia, the 12 Danish Open skippers were able to sail eight flights, PRO Mads Korsgaard keen to get as many races in as possible, with similar conditions forecast for tomorrow.

Jes Gram Hansen and Pier Luigi de Felice show excellent performance in the first day of the Danish Open. Aarhus, 10 September 2009. Photo copyright Per Heegaard

Of the first six who sailed each other, it was local match racing hero Jes Gram-Hansen who came out on top, dropping just one race of his five to young Dane, Peter Wibroe. This was a top opener, considering that Gram-Hansen has had a year’s sabbatical from match racing.

“It is fun to be back, but we had really difficult conditions today - it has been up and down,” said Gram-Hansen, who has twice finished third overall in the World Match Racing Tour.

With the giant shifts, that became bigger still (between 40-60 degrees) in the afternoon when some threatening rain clouds passed overhead, so today was mostly about guessing the shifts right up the first beat and less about match racing prowess. “Rasmus (Kostner) did a fantastic job today in getting us to the right side,” said Gram-Hansen of his tactician. “Sometimes you might not want the start that looks good, but you just want to go to the first shift.”

Low point of the day for Gram-Hansen was an error coming into the bottom mark against Peter Wibroe. “They got a penalty for sailing above proper course and then we had a miscommunication on board, so we gybed the main and they were still on starboard and we got a penalty. Then the boats hit, so it turned into a red flag penalty for us. We are bit rusty! We can’t react quickly enough to situations, so we have to try and improve that over the next days.”

It could have been a perfect day for Jes Gram Hansen if he hadn't collided with fellow countryman Peter Wibroe. Aarhus, 10 September 2009. Photo copyright Per Heegaard

While Gram-Hansen shone, that could not be said of two Tour heavyweights - Britain’s Ian Williams and New Zealander Adam Minoprio, who last week won the St Moritz Match Race and is now 2009 Tour leader. Both ended the day with a disappointing 1-4 scoreline.

“In the first race we didn’t have our time and distance right for these boats and we were late back and we didn’t get the pin or the left hand side of the track and Gram Hansen got the left and totally smashed us. In the next four races there were about 60deg shifts,” explained a sheepish Minoprio, joking that his only consolation was that their one victory today was against Ian Williams and therefore is ahead of him on count back.

With second group getting their first three flights sailed, Australians Torvar Mirsky and Peter Gilmour of YANMAR Racing proved the class act, both with a 3-0 scoreline, albeit with a protest outstanding against Gilmour, from French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge America’s Cup skipper Sebastien Col over an unfair course being sailed. “It was not easy, big wind shifts – then it really went weird,” said the match race veteran. The better was nearly had of Gilmour by up-and-coming sailor Phil Robertson, who gained his place at the Danish Open this year by winning the Warren Jones Youth Regatta in Perth earlier this year. However the wily Gilmour planted a penalty on him and it was game over.

The highlight of the day was the match between Olympic 49er Gold medallist Jonas Warrer, who like Gram-Hansen also heralds from Aarhus, and France’s Mathieu Richard. Still a fledgling match racer, Warrer unexpectedly won the match only for Richard to claim that the race committee had made a mistake in how they signalled a change of course on the second leg. The race was sailed again at the close of play today and Warrer once again beat his opponent.

“We are really happy about the result. It would have been nice if it had been two different races!” said the Dane on his return ashore. Of his transition from the rather different discipline of Olympic skiff sailing Warrer commented: “Of course there is a huge difference, but there are a lot of things we can use form the 49er, especially today when we had all these shifts and pressure differences. But in the tight situations we are far behind and I have a lot to learn from that. Most of the time I hope to stay out of the trouble in the tight situation, because I don’t have the experience.”

The round robins continue off Aarhus tomorrow.

Jes Gram Hansen (DEN) Trifork Racing 4-1
Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing 3-0
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team 3-0
Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team 3-2
Peter Wibroe (DEN) Wibroe Sailing Team 3-2
Mattias Rahm (SWE) Stena Bulk Sailing Team 3-2
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team 1-2
Sebastien Col (FRA) French Match Racing Team 1-2
Ian Williams (FRA) Team Pindar 1-4
Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing 1-4
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing 0-3

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