(Australian Associated Press)
InfoTrack skipper Christian Beck is claiming underdog status in what shapes as a two-boat battle for Sydney to Hobart line honours this year.
A bumper 89-strong fleet will contest the 76th annual blue-water classic getting underway once again on Boxing Day.
COVID-19 restrictions have barely diminished interest in the great race, but champion super maxis Wild Oats XI – a record nine-times line honours winner – and three-times overall winner Comanche will be missing.
“The number has exceeded all our expectations,” Cruising Harbour Yacht Club of Australia commodore Noel Cornish said at Wednesday’s race launch.
The absence of the two titans of the ocean leaves InfoTrack and Peter Harburg’s Black Jack as undoubted favourites for line honours.
InfoTrack won line honours in record time as Perpetual LOYAL in 2016 while Black Jack, the only international entry this year and representing Monaco, reigned as Alfa Romeo II in 2009.
“We’re very happy. The odds are probably better than we’ve ever had before. We’re looking forward to it,” Beck said on Wednesday.
Happy he may be, but cocky? He’s anything but.
“If you look at Black Jack, if you look at the numbers, we’ve raced each other the last three years. They’ve won two, we’ve won one,” Beck said.
“They’re a better boat than ours. I’d happily swap their boat for ours.
“If I was putting a bet on, I would put a bet on them before us.
“We’ve probably got a chance of being first out of the heads, like last year.
“But to win the overall race, I’d rather be in their shoes now.”
Despite playing down her chances, InfoTrack is unquestionably on the improve, having finished fourth in 2018 and second last year to Comanche, and Beck is at least confident in his crew.
Matt Allen is aiming to win on handicap for the third time in four years in his 52-footer Ichi Ban.
No one has won on handicap in successive years in more than half a century.
“There’s a lot of pressure on us. We quite enjoy the pressure and obviously the weather gods need to be good to you,” Allen said.
“It’s an enormous challenge for us and the crew to get the boat ready.
“We’ll give it the best shot possible.”
In addition to the traditional race for line and handicap honours, an exciting new two-handed division has been introduced this year ahead of its inclusion on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games program.
The 2020 staging of the 634-nautical mile race also marks the 75th anniversary of women competing in the Sydney to Hobart.