Fremantle – Reigning World Champion Ian Williams swept aside Hans Wallén 3-0 to win the final of the World Match Racing Tour Fremantle, the opening event of the 2016 World Match Racing Tour season.
Even though the GAC Pindar skipper has won a record six world titles on the Tour in the days of slow keelboats, the level of his domination in high-speed M32 catamarans took even the British skipper by surprise.
Williams was keen to put the praise on his three hard-working crew mates, the engine room of GAC Pindar – Mark Bulkeley, Garth Ellingham and Brad Farrand. “There’s always a lot of focus on the skipper, but this really is a team sport. It’s pretty obvious which way to point a fast boat like an M32 so my job is relatively easy, it’s what the guys do in front of me that really counts.”
In the morning, the wind was gusting unpredictably off Bather’s Beach for the Semi Finals. Denmark’s Nicolai Sehested was expected to give Williams a tough battle having been the class act of the previous day’s high-wind racing. At the start of the first match Sehested was penalised for starting too early by the umpires. “Actually both Williams and ourselves were over but the message didn’t get through correctly from the race committee to the umpires,” said a frustrated but philosophical Sehested. “We shouldn’t have been penalised but we were and that was the race gone right there.” Sehested appealed the call but to no avail.
The start of match two, and moments after the start Williams’ gennaker unfurled too soon – the result of a bad furl during an aggressive pre-start between the teams. Sehested surged into a seemingly unassailable lead until his gennaker started unfurling on the first beat – again the result of operator error at the leeward gate. Match two, and match point to Williams.
Finally in match three Sehested got his groove on, surging away to a good lead until – disaster – he capsized at the leeward turning mark. “I did a normal turn but I hadn’t noticed that our boards weren’t in their correct position,” said Sehested. “The leeward one was up and the windward one was down, and the lift from the windward board tipped us in. Frustrating, but that’s sailing. We gave Ian two of those races on a plate. But overall we’re pleased with how we sailed this week. A new team, we’re fast, and we’ll come back strong for the next event.”
So Williams was through to the Final 3-0. There was a good battle on the other side of the Semi Final draw, although Hans Wallén’s experience in the M32 catamaran proved too much for Yann Guichard who lost 3-0 to the Swedish crew.
In the Petit Final, the race for 3rd overall, Guichard beat Sehested 2-1.
For the Final later on in the afternoon, when the breeze had turned to an offshore moderate wind, Williams looked more in control during the pre-start maneuvering and generally got the better of Wallén from early on in each match. The exception was match three when an unforced error by Williams during the pre-start entry resulted in penalty on the British team. However the Swedish advantaged proved short-lived as Williams found a different path down the first run and surged into a lead that he would extend all the way to the finish.
With 20 international teams from all kinds of grand prix sailing backgrounds, it wasn’t meant to be like this. Williams was expected to be there or thereabouts, but not to dominate quite like he did. Going back two days to the start of the match racing phase of the competition, Williams lost his opening match to the young Sam Gilmour, son of Williams’ past nemesis – the legendary Peter Gilmour. But that would prove to be the only loss in 13 matches on the way to the Briton lifting the trophy.
Asked why he had been so dominant, Williams offered this: “If there’s one thing that I think I’ve always been good at throughout my career, something I’ve been very focused on, is looking at ways of improving different parts of what we do, always trying to learn and move things on.” With that in mind, and this being the first time we’ve seen M32s being raced on the World Match Racing Tour, Williams was also asked how his team of day one in Fremantle, just five days ago, would have performed in the Final. “No chance. You can see how much the quality of the sailing and the racing has moved on with each day here. We’re so much better than we were, and of course we’re going to need to keep on improving throughout this year. We can’t afford to stand still.”
Wallén probably wasn’t expected to make the Final, but the Olympic silver medallist was rightly proud to have done so. “We are happy, only frustrated that we couldn’t give Ian more of a fight. In these moderate conditions and stable wind direction there were very few passing lanes,” said the Swede.
Williams raised the trophy aloft and accepted a winner’s cheque for USD 33,000, his team’s share of a USD 200,000 prize purse. Now the game moves on to three other international venues before the big finale this July, the World Championship Finals in Marstrand, Sweden. The winner’s prize is USD 1million, so the teams will be practicing hard over the next four months to close the gap to the new standard set by Williams this week in sunny, sensational Fremantle.
WMRT Fremantle 2016 – Final Results
1. Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar $US 33,000
2. Hans Wallén (SWE) Walleén Racing $US 23,000
3. Yann Guichard (FRA) Spindrift Racing $US 18,000
4. Nicolai Sehested (DEN) Trefor Match Racing $US 18,000
5. Matt Jerwood (AUS) Redline Racing $US 12,000