Current Match Racing World Champion Phil Robertson and his CHINAone NINGBO team are in a dominant position and on supreme form as they head to the fourth round of the World Match Racing Tour Championship season – the WMRT Match Cup Russia hosted by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, supported by Gazprom, August 1-6.
Can the unique challenges of the Neva River in St Petersburg finally unsettle the New Zealander? It may take more than that, because though this is the first Championship level WMRT event in Russia, it is not the first time for Robertson.
“I’ve sailed in Russia about four times now,” Robertson said. “It can be really beautiful – it’s quite a stunning location to sail – but it comes with its challenges, which is being a river it’s got probably a couple of knots of current, and is very shifty and puffy at the same time being in the middle of the city. So, it’s a challenging place, but nonetheless very beautiful and a cool place to sail. You’ve got some beautiful buildings right on the edge of the race course, when the sun shines, it’s a hard spot to beat.”
These are not words to encourage the chasing pack – who given Robertson’s record this year need all the encouragement they can get. Robertson won stage one, Match Cup Australia and has been generally unbeatable in July. He followed a crushing victory in the GKSS Match Cup Sweden at the beginning of the month, by winning the inaugural M32 World Championship in Marstrand, Sweden, and last weekend won the Extreme Sailing Series event in Barcelona. On the fourth week he rested.
“We’ve had a pretty good run, can’t really complain,” he said. “I’m just resting this week.”
What does he put his form over the past two seasons (after victory at the WMRT Match Racing World Championship in 2016) down to? “There’s nothing special to be honest, it’s just years of hard work starting to pay off and we’ve found a nice little balance in the team and it seems to be working well. I’m improving a lot and still have a lot to improve on, so it’s a nice spot to be in.”
Robertson will never be able to take it easy with the likes of Ian Williams, the six-time world champion, in the wings. One Wild Card to watch is Victor Serezhkin, skipper of Gazprom Team Russia, who knows these waters and surprised everyone with his performances coming from behind on day 2 of the M32 World Championships a fortnight ago. He confirmed Robertson’s view of what will face the teams.
“St Petersburg as a sailing venue is definitely one of the most interesting and beautiful in the world – just imagine that you’re racing with the backdrop of all these amazing sites that you can almost reach out touch,” Serezhkin said. “But from the sailor’s point of view, this is one of the toughest racing venues. It’s river, not a sea, so there’s lots of current and the winds are shifty and puffy (going from) 5-15 knots in just seconds.
“St Petersburg events are always surprising. Yes, local knowledge plus some luck is half of the success. But (it’s also about) smart sailing – the feature that the fleet has in abundance.”
Racing will take place in the heart of St. Petersburg at the foot of the walls of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress, with the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum to the south, Vasilievsky Island to the west, and the sailing so close to shore that spectators will not miss a beat. Fans will have unparalleled access to the event, the sailors, and the machines they race on as the event village will be situated on the beach in front of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress with the M32 catamarans landing there after racing each day.
Racing at WMRT Match Cup Russia begins Tuesday 1st August with the finals scheduled for Sunday. All action will be covered via wmrt.com
IAN WILLIAMS (GBR) – GAC PINDAR
SAM GILMOUR (AUS) – NEPTUNE RACING
MATT JERWOOD (AUS) – REDLINE RACING
NICKLAS DACKHAMMAR (SWE) – ESSIQ RACING
JONAS WARRER (DEN) – WARRER RACING
SALLY BARKOW (USA) – TEAM MAGENTA 32
YANN GUICHARD (FRA) – SPINDRIFT RACING
VICTOR SEREZHKIN (RUS) – GAZPROM TEAM RUSSIA
MÅNS HOLMBERG (SWE) – GOTHENBURG RACING
STEVE THOMAS (AUS) – RPM RACING
NICO DELLE KARTH (AUT) – CHILLI RACING