World Match Racing Tour's Ian Williams learning from the past

Ian Williams (GB) vs Mathieu Richard (FRA) Qualifying session 1 at Monsoon Cup 2010. World Match Racing Tour, Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia.
Having won back-to-back Match Racing World Championships in 2007 and 2008, Ian Williams of Team GAC Pindar has since had a comparatively disappointing run of form on the World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) however, as his team’s preparations get underway for the 2011 world series Williams is looking to learn from past lessons to scoop a third title.

Williams plays his cards close to his chest when asked about previous mistakes however, he pinpoints a lack of training as perhaps the main reason why his team underperformed in 2010.

'We’d love to go out and win our third title so we’re closely evaluating how things went in 2010. We are certainly going to do a lot more match racing this year - last year our training was very limited and I think that proved pretty costly. We plan to have a greater focus on team consistency and training this year which will hopefully benefit our results.'

'I will also be racing with a slightly different team this year. It’s changing due to a variety of reasons and getting the right balance will be critical. Our strength is the team that we employ. Some teams are very helmsman lead whereas we are very integrated and involve everyone in decision making and I think that approach gets us better result.'

Despite racing well in qualifying rounds, Williams failed to win a regatta during the 2010 Tour and had to watch his title go to New Zealand’s Adam Minoprio in 2009 and Britain’s Ben Ainslie in 2010. Asides from a greater focus on training, Williams is unwilling to be drawn into the mental game often played out between skippers off the water instead keeping his strategy under wraps to avoid it being exploited.

With neither Minoprio nor Ainslie competing this year, Williams is looking to fight to take back his title however he is under no illusion of the challenge he is facing taking on the other competitors. 'The Tour is always an evolving group of teams and sailors, however it’s only the landscape that changes not the level of competition which seems to rise every year.'

With the first event of the Tour, Match Race France, kicking off on the tenth of May, it’s clear Williams is placing a lot of onus on training plans. 'We have a mixture of private training and team training events coming up. We are going to the Congressional Cup soon and really want to use it as an opportunity to grow as a team and sort out our communication and the way we sail together.'

'We won’t really have a specific base as we will be quite a multinational team. We also need to be able to move around easily as one of the biggest challenges we face is the lack of facilities in the UK to train on. We are constantly looking for training places abroad, whether that is at WMRT venues or anywhere we can get that fits in with everyone’s schedules.'

This year sees Williams try his hand at the Extreme Sailing Series for the first time. The challenge of juggling both the competitions has lead to skippers such as Phil Robertson (Waka Racing) to say Williams might not have as much focus on the WMRT as in previous years. However, the Briton disagrees saying the two competitions could work to their advantage.

'It’s going to be a challenge juggling both commitments however the more time you spend on the water no matter what the form of sailing, the better sailor you will become. Both races require good team work and speed of thought and actually have quite a lot of similarities so they will complement each other as long as we overcome the different feel of the boats.'

Despite the challenge of racing in two world-class events, taking a year off from the WMRT was never an option for Williams.

'I enjoy the challenge of sailing in even boats against other teams. I think it’s a very pure sailing challenge, it’s very much your team against the other team, on the water, on that day. It’s about your performance on the day as opposed to the work you’ve put in behind the scenes getting your boat tuned. It keeps you sharp as sailors.'

Having started competing on the Tour in 2004-2005 Williams has, over the years, built up some notable rivalries with certain skippers. One notable example of this is when Williams races Peter Gilmour (YANMAR Racing). The two are known for particularly explosive matches as witnessed during last year’s Monsoon Cup when Gilmour was black flagged.

'You actually end up with everyone as a rival in some way or another. You can look at my rivalry with say Peter Gilmour who was at the top when we started and was someone we learnt a lot from and looked up to. Hopefully we’ve turned the tables on that one but we always have fantastic matches against him. The TV crews almost always focus on our matches because they know there may be fireworks.'

'Elsewhere there is the likes of Mathieu Richard (French Match Racing Team) who is of a similar age to me and has come up through match racing at a similar time and rate and Torvar Mirsky who’s also racing in the Extreme Sailing Series - they are two guys I look forward to challenging.'

Whilst history adds a bit of spice between teams, Williams knows that he will still have to get under the skin of relative newcomers such as Phil Robertson who will be just as important to beat. 'You need to learn the other person’s game pretty well – there are a lot of subtleties which you can’t see as a spectator and so the most effective way to establish their racing style and character is to get out on the water and race them.'

'I’ve sailed Phil (Robertson) a bit so am starting to form an opinion of his strengths and weaknesses. Damien Iehl has been on the Tour for a few years now, just not as a Tour Card Holder, so we are getting a feel for his style now and how to best exploit it.'

With the WMRT in the process of expanding from nine to 15 venues by 2013, the chance to sail in so many different locations is hugely appealing. Each venue offers different challenges with some skippers preferring certain venues over others.

'We seem to perform better at some events such as St Moritz having made the semis there four times. The conditions are notoriously shifty so I think it suits the older guys more because you have a bit more experience.'
'That said, whilst you have favourite events, I don’t really feel there’s any event we can’t win. In actual fact we’ve made the final at all the events on the Tour previously at some point or another.'

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