Having had one year out from match racing and the World Match Racing Tour, local hero Jes Gram-Hansen was not top of the list of favourites going into this week’s Danish Open, organised by the Royal Danish Yacht Club. However match racing for Gram Hansen seems to be like riding a bike, especially when it is in the DS37s he started racing intensively during his match race training as a youth back in the mid-1990s, and better still when he is racing these familiar boats in his home waters off Aarhus.
Racing with his long term sailing partner Rasmus Kostner, America’s Cup trimmer Pier Luigi de Felice who he competed alongside at Mascalzone Latino and ex-Ericsson round the world race crewmen ‘big’ Jann Neergaard and Martin Krite, Gram-Hansen had a battle royal with Australian veteran Peter Gilmour of YANMAR Racing in the semi-finals. He won this nail-biting series 3-1, to go up against Torvar Mirsky in the finals. Mirsky in turn had dispatched Mattias Rahm and his Stena Bulk Sailing Team 3-2 in the semis. After his heavyweight bout in the semis, Gram-Hansen seemed to make easy work of the finals to win against the young Australian, by an emphatic 3-0. “To come from the semis to the final beating Gillie was a good boost for our confidence,” Gram-Hansen confirmed.
While yesterday may have been the day of protests and considerable umpire activity, today was more about boat handling with the wind gods finally turning up the volume, the breeze having veered into the north and gusting into the low 20s. On the water this meant marginally less boat on boat contact but the additional challenge of boat handling as gusts repeatedly struck.
“It was one of the days when all the small details and all the small shifts were going our way. We were also sailing very well,” claimed a dripping Gram-Hansen having just clambered out of Marselisborg Havn, following his victor’s dunking. “In the two first races it was quite windy and the boys just worked fantastically in the boat.”
Since the end of the America’s Cup in 2007, Gram-Hansen has been hoping to find backing to compete in the World Match Racing Tour. This fairy tale result on home waters might change this. “I hope to be back for sure. That is what I love – match racing.”
In his final against Mirsky, Gram-Hansen’s team looked the more confident with their boat handling, as while leading Mirsky’s boat suffered a broach going into the bottom mark. “After that Jes’ crew work and teamwork was very solid and consistent,” admitted Mirsky. “The next two starts he just dominated - we were behind or with a penalty and behind. It was very hard to even be close to him. To some extent we were happy just to be in the final and we weren’t concentrating enough on trying to win.”
Gilmour and his YANMAR Racing team beat Mattias Rahm and the Stena Bulk Sailing Team in the petit-final to claim third place. Last night Gilmour, the round robin winner, had been joking about his decision possibly having been a rash one to pick Gram-Hansen as his semi-final opponent. However Gilmour, a gentleman ashore, but aggressive in the extreme on the water, said that receiving five penalties in his four semi-final races hadn’t helped. “It seemed everything he did was green flagged and everything we did was penalised. They weren’t bad infringements, they were tacks to leewards and stuff like that. But c’est la vie…”
Their deciding semi-final match came to a dramatic conclusion when Gilmour luffed Gram-Hansen just short of the finish line, the flogging spinnakers on both boats coming perilously close to destroying themselves in the conditions, as the Aussie veteran held up his opponent for what seemed like hours. Gilmour felt Gram-Hansen should have been awarded a penalty in this instance, but he wasn’t and the Dane went on to take his third and final win.
Defending champion at the Danish Open, Ian Williams and Team Pindar, beat France’s Mathieu Richard to claim fifth place in the 12-strong field, but were otherwise busy doing their maths, keeping their fingers crossed that Gram-Hansen and Stephane Rahm, who compete irregularly on the World Match Racing Tour, and are thus below them in the rankings, would win out.
“It was nice to beat Mathieu – at this stage of the season every point counts and you’ve got to get what you can. The other highlight was Torvar not winning!” claimed Williams, who having dropped from fourth place to fifth in the overall 2009 World Match Racing Tour rankings, now needs to get a good result at the next event in Bermuda if he is to remain in contention for the final event of the season, the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia.
1st Jes Gram Hansen (DEN) Trifork Racing
2nd Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team
3rd Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing
4th Mattias Rahm (SWE) Stena Bulk Sailing Team
5th Ian Williams (GBR) Team Pindar
6th Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team
7th Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing
8th Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team
9th Sebastien Col (FRA) French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge
10th Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing
11th Peter Wibroe (DEN) Wibroe Sailing Team
12th Jonas Warrer (DEN)