Quarterfinalists set after completion of Repechage Round at Stage 1 of the 2005-06 Swedish Match Tour in Portugal

The second day of the PTPortugal Match Cup, Stage 1 of the 2005-06 Swedish Match Tour, brought with it strong winds from the north and a flurry of action on the racecourse yesterday in Cascais, Portugal.

Through almost eight hours, the race committee ran 30 matches and completed the round robins for Group B and the Repechage Round on a 20 by 20 day. The northerly blew 20 knots (with gusts up to 25 knots) and featured instantaneous shifts of up to 20 degrees.

The day started with Group B contesting its five-flight round robin. Jes Gram-Hansen (DEN), Gram-Hansen Racing, came out on top with a 4-1 record. Gram-Hansen and his band of Danes lost their first match but then won four straight. The final win against Bertrand Pacé (FRA), BMW Oracle Racing, put the two in a tie for the lead, but gave Gram-Hansen the tiebreaker.

Gram-Hansen placed fourth on last year’s Tour despite helming only two events. He and two other members of his crew, Michael Arnhild and Rasmus Kostner, have been racing with Russell Coutts for most of the last year. But this is Gram-Hansen’s first time at the helm since last November’s Nippon Cup, where he finished second.

“I had a bit of uncertainty at first, but it came back quickly,” said Gram-Hansen, who also has Danes Chresten Plinius and Pete Poulsen in his crew. “Generally the left looked strong, but sometimes we chose to start to leeward and switch over to the right.”

Pacé looked smooth winning his first four matches of the round, but got in trouble in the pre-start against Gram-Hansen, who had no doubt about how to play the start. The Dane gave himself a break early in the match when he pushed Pacé over the start line early, gaining about two boatlengths as Pacé cleared the line and restarted.

“The pin was favoured,” said Gram-Hansen. “We had him hooked (on starboard) late in the pre-start and he had nowhere to go. He had to tack away.”

Gram-Hansen and Pacé advanced to the quarterfinals along with Ben Ainslie (NZL), Emirates Team New Zealand.

Ainslie, a British double Olympic gold medalist sailing his third Tour event, finished his round at 3-2 and in a tie with Ian Williams (GBR). But Ainslie beat Williams in the last flight of the group when the latter was tagged with two penalties. That made it an easy win for Ainslie, and put Williams in the Repechage Round from which the two top crews would advance to the quarterfinals.

The second chance round saw Chris Law (GBR), The Outlaws, win with a 4-1 record to advance. Law lost his first match but then won four straight in the still puffy and shifty conditions. “The call to make was between pressure left or angle to the right,” said the veteran match-racer who has two Team Shosholoza sailors crewing for him. “It was skillful stuff, great upwind and downwind.”

Williams, the up-and-coming match-racer who is on a work sabbatical to test his game, found himself in another dogfight for the last qualifying spot. This time he was battling Michael Dunstan (AUS) and Hamish Pepper (NZL), Mascalzone Latino – Capitalia Team.

Each crew finished with a 3-2 record, but Dunstan won the tiebreaker by virtue of having beaten both in head-to-head matches. It left Williams wondering what he has to do to advance. “We were one place outside of qualifying in both rounds,” said the bewildered skipper.

Dunstan was elated. He received an invite to the event just one month ago and quickly scraped together his crew, who were mostly in Europe or the US racing other regattas. “This is the first time in my life I think a tiebreaker has gone in my favor,” said Dunstan.

The Dunstan-Williams match in the repechage was a key showdown. Williams trailed up the first beat but got to the right near the top of the leg. He was on Dunstan’s transom approaching the windward mark on starboard. Dunstan led but Williams was able to get a late overlap and round inside of Dunstan, who received two penalties from the umpires.

Carrying two penalties Dunstan had to do one of the 270-degree penalty turns immediately, which gave Williams a comfortable lead of about five boatlengths. Dunstan, however, closed to within three boatlengths on the second beat. On the run to the finish Dunstan charged up from astern and took the lead near the finish, but still had a penalty to unload. “They went up hard across our stern towards the pin end,” said Dunstan, “so we luffed. They were trying to get the chute down but the umpires said they didn’t do it quickly enough. They were penalized for not keeping clear in a windward/leeward situation.”

With Williams penalized Dunstan simply bore off towards the finish line and claimed a 2-second win. It was the difference between advancing to the quarterfinals and going home scratching your head.

The quarterfinals are scheduled for tomorrow with Ainslie, Dunstan, Gram-Hansen and Pacé joining Group A advancers Peter Holmberg (ISV), Alinghi, Staffan Lindberg (FIN), Team Finland, and Peter Gilmour (AUS), Pizza-La Sailing Team.

PTPortugal Match Cup Standings

Group B Round Robin (after 5 of 5 scheduled flights)

1. Jes Gram-Hansen (DEN) Gram-Hansen Racing, 4-1

Crew: Michael Arnhild, Rasmus Kostner, Chresten Plinius, Pete Poulsen

2. Bertrand Pacé (FRA) BMW Oracle Racing, 4-1

Crew: Eric Doyle, Noel Drennan, Zack Hurst, Brad Webb

3. Ben Ainslie (GBR) Emirates Team New Zealand, 3-2

Crew: Stu Bettany, Ray Davies, Rob Salthouse, Chris Ward

4. Ian Williams (GBR) Team Musto, 3-2

Crew: Will Howden, Pontus Meijer, Simon Shaw, Mark Williams

5. Afonso Domingos (POR), 1-4

Crew: Manuel Dantas, Luis Neves, Miguel Nunes, Bernardo Plantier

6. Manuel Marques (POR), 0-5

Crew: Vasco Almeida, Goncalo Cabrita, Duarte Neves, Rui Sancho

Repechage Round Robin (after 5 of 5 scheduled flights)

1. Chris Law (GBR) The Outlaws, 4-1

Crew: Andy Oliver, Shaun Pammenter, Diogo Pereira, Mark Sadler

2. Michael Dunstan (AUS), 3-2

Crew: James Fox, Andrew Hutchinson, Ben Morrison-Jack, Nick Wilcox

3. Ian Williams (GBR) Team Musto, 3-2

Crew: Will Howden, Pontus Meijer, Simon Shaw, Mark Williams

4. Hamish Pepper (NZL) Mascalzone Latino – Capitalia Team, 3-2

Crew: Marco Constant, Cameron Dunn, Pietro Mantovani, Jon Ziskind

5. Afonso Domingos (POR), 2-3

Crew: Manuel Dantas, Luis Neves, Miguel Nunes, Bernardo Plantier

6. Manuel Marques (POR), 0-5

Crew: Vasco Almeida, Goncalo Cabrita, Duarte Neves, Rui Sancho