The ISAF World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) is the world’s leading professional sailing series featuring nine World Championship events across the globe.
Debut Tour Card Holder Johnie Berntsson admits that a harsh but honest assessment of ‘a mediocre’ 2010 season was needed if his Berntsson Racing Team is to get the changes right to launch a realistic assault on the podium in 2011.
A third place at the Argo Group Gold Cup aside, the Swedish team struggled for consistency last season, eventually finishing 13th overall. However, with a Tour Card secured for the next series guaranteeing up to six event invites, Berntsson knows that now is the time to take his chance.
'Last season was mediocre after a really good 2009. We simply tried to do more events than we were capable of. Now we've negotiated and planned so we can be dedicated to the Tour and make that our sole focus.'
Having competed on the Tour for the past five years, Berntsson is no longer a new face on the WMRT, but he's backed both his team's talent and strategy and given them what he feels is an attainable target of a podium finish.
'A successful year for us would be to finish in the top three on the WMRT. We know it's going to be tough but we have the potential to be there. We'll take one step at a time towards that goal and having a Tour Card is certainly key to our development. We have won Tour events but now we want the World Championship.'
Many of Berntsson's fellow Tour Card Holders have opted to introduce only minor tweaks, instead sticking to what they know. Berntsson, although confident in his team, has learnt from past lessons and introduced some more wholesale changes.
'We've built a new team, a double team of sorts which gives us strength in depth and competition for places. We've also introduced 'a Scandinavian type of leadership' on the boat where everyone has an equal voice. So while we all have our own responsibilities, at the end of the day if one link breaks then the team breaks. Nobody is more important than the next.'
'Apart from smaller Grade two and three events back in Sweden, we're focusing solely on the Tour. My experience is that to build your sailing knowledge it's good to vary your events. Our decision now is to concentrate on match racing which we think will pay off in the long run. Teams that do a lot of other events have a challenge to juggle their time and give match racing and the Tour the focus it demands to be successful on it.'
With three teams making their debut as Tour Card Holders, 2011 will see a mixture of newcomers and more experienced faces battle it out to become the next Match Racing World Champion. Young or not, Berntsson isn't taking any team for granted.
'For every great sailor that leaves the Tour, another comes in. New teams like (Phil) Robertson's Waka Racing are young but they've been racing all their lives. They'll be confident, determined and a challenge for everyone. You cannot afford to overlook them. They will bring new tricks to match racing which can trip us up – we actually need to analyse them as they will be assessing us.'
'Elsewhere, there are some really strong names, former winners who will be there at the end of the season. It's difficult to say who will win but the names that have been around on the Tour will certainly be in the hunt.'
With nine different locations for the teams to compete at, the teams often find certain locations suit their team's abilities more.
'We perform well at Tour events with bigger boats. With those you have to make the decisions well before the situation comes up. That sort of knowledge is a strong part of our team.'
In sailing, and in particular the one-on-one combative world of match racing, teams need to get into a competitive, even aggressive mindset to take on their opponent. Off the water Berntsson is considered an affable sailor with a professional yet approachable manner. However he knows that's not something he can afford to be on the water if he is to realise his dreams this season.
'We're very different to how we are in-shore. When match racing we want things to happen and we want to disturb our opponents. We're very different in-shore...people probably think we're a bit schizophrenic!' World Match Racing Tour website