Ian Williams is hoping to see his name added to the list of ‘greats’ in the World Match Racing Tour history books by winning a third world title.
After five stages of the World Match Racing Tour, the world’s premier monohull match racing series, British skipper Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar is currently lying third in the overall standings – but with two consecutive wins under his belt heads towards the remaining three events as the skipper to beat.
Williams is already one of only five skippers to win multiple World Match Racing Tour titles, and the only European to do so. A third title would see him draw level on wins with legends such as Russell Coutts, Ed Baird and Chris Dickson. The only skipper with more wins is Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing, currently with four world titles to his name and sitting in second place overall this season.
Williams and his team were crowned world champions in 2007, with Williams becoming the first Brit ever to win the World Match Racing Tour, and in 2008 they cemented their reputation on the world match racing circuit notching up a second championship title. After disappointing seasons in 2009 and 2010, Williams has returned to formidable form with back-to-back wins at the Portimão Portugal Match Cup and Stena Match Cup Sweden – and now has a third world title firmly in his sights.
'If we were able to win this year it would take us to three world titles which would put us alongside some of the greats of match racing like Chris Dickson and Russell Coutts,' Williams said. 'Having had a couple of years where we haven’t even finished on the podium has been frustrating. A win this season would be fantastic and a real sign that we still have what it takes.
'I think we have a good shot at the title. We’ve now had three good results from four events and we have to get at least one more from the next two events in order to be right up there. If we manage that then I think we will go to the Monsoon Cup looking very strong. Our job now is to make sure we secure that position going into the last event of the Tour.'
After a poor tenth-place finish at Match Race France, Williams and his team regrouped, dominating in the Qualifying rounds at following events and – unlike the past two seasons – they have managed to convert their authority on the racecourse into points. Last season Williams had an impressive win rate of 66.2 per cent but only managed to finish fifth overall, a sign of success in Qualifying but failure when it really counted.
Not so this year. A current strike rate of 61.3 per cent this season has led to three podium finishes including two event wins, establishing Williams as one of the most dangerous skippers on the racecourse. Williams puts his success down to the 'chemistry' between his team, which recently saw the return of his 2007 world title-winning crewmate and current Etchells World Champion Bill Hardesty.
'Having Bill onboard again has been brilliant, he’s a great sailor and our personalities really click on the race course,' Williams added. 'However it’s about the whole team – Matt Cassidy has done a great job this year, as have Mal Parker and Gerry Mitchell. We have really come together and the proof is in our results. We’ve got chemistry on the boat and we’ve been able to come back from some tricky situations to win. That’s the difference between this year and last year.'
With the added pressure of juggling a World Match Racing Tour campaign with racing in the Extreme Sailing Series, currently in action at Cowes Week, Williams has had to work extra hard to get results this season.
'I have found though that some aspects of my monohull sailing have been affected by the constant jump between monohulls and multihulls,' Williams admitted. 'I haven’t been as strong downwind as I’d have liked to be and I think that’s just because it’s hard to switch your mind from one discipline to the other, especially when it comes to something like downwind tactics. The Argo Group Gold Cup in Bermuda is going to be a tough one for us because it takes place right after an Extreme Sailing Series event but that said, so did STENA Match Cup Sweden and we managed to win there. We have a clear run up to the Monsoon Cup so that will give us a good chance to get a lot of match racing practice.'
The sixth stage of the World Match Racing Tour sees the teams travel to the Swiss resort of St Moritz to contest for the title of King of the Mountain after a six-week break from racing, a stark contrast to the first half of the Tour with five events packed into the space of two months.
'We really need to view these remaining three stages as individual events in their own right,' Williams said. 'During this break the team all have their own things going on including other sailing events and coaching so it will be really important that we come back together for St Moritz focussed on match racing.'
With Gilmour absent from the line-up, Williams has pinpointed current Tour leader Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing as the only skipper who could stand in the way of his quest for a third world title.
'Francesco’s team are up there at the top right now but we’re pretty even,' Williams said. 'If you take our best three results each we have similar scores. If we both get good results from the next two events we could find ourselves quite far ahead of the others by the Monsoon Cup. There are a lot of guys within a few points of each other behind us but they are going to need to pull out big wins to be in contention and so far the likes of Richard and Mirsky haven’t yet found their top form.'
St Moritz Match Race, the sixth stage of the World Match Racing Tour, takes place on Lake St Moritz in the Engadin Valley from August 30 to September 4.
2011 ISAF World Match Racing Tour Standings (After Stage 5):
1 Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing – 81pts
2 Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing – 74pts
3 Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar - 71pts
4 Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners – 59pts
5 Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat – 59pts
6 Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team – 57pts
7 Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team - 57pts
8 Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team – 53pts
9 Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing – 39pts
10 Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team - 34pts