The rise and rise of BlackMatch Racing has been one of the phenomenon's of the international match racing circuit, and World Match Racing Tour.
Three years ago four sailors who had recently graduated from the Lion Foundation's Youth Scheme organised by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, decided to break into the big time. two days ago they were on fire in the semi-finals of the Monsoon Cup, forcing errors from the reigning world champion to make the finals of the Level 1 event.
Adam Minoprio, David Swete, Tom Powrie and Nick Blackman's goals were simple, to have a World Match Racing Tour card inside three years and be World Champions in five years.
'It's a goal we started a few years ago', explains skipper Adam Minoprio. 'I was still at uni and we decided we’d have a five year plan on trying to win the World Tour.
'This is the end of the third year. Our goal by the end of the third year was to have guaranteed entry into the tour for next year, which we have achieved. Next year our goal was to become a force on the tour, and the year after win – but we’re feeling confident that next year we’ll be in a good position.'
Last weekend at the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia, that first goal was achieved and in the next two years will try and achieve their second.
Back to the present, Minoprio described their comeback against current World Champion, Ian Williams (GBR)
'We came two nil down against the World Champion. We knew we had a big job ahead of us – we just went out there to take it one race at a time. We weren’t holding great hopes of going three in a row against the World Champion – so we just thought take it one race at a time, make sure we do everything right and see where it happens.
'As it turned out, each race we just managed to nail it every time – and three in a row, which we couldn’t be more pleased with – but guaranteed us a world tour card. And then to go into the World Finals against Peter Gilmore – we’re pretty happy to be racing him. If we had a choice in the final eight, we would have probably chosen Gilly – but as much experience as he has, you always know that he’s getting better towards the end of the regatta, which is just shy – and he just qualified and then just went through the quarters, confidently went through the semi’s and then won the finals. You always know he’s going to finish strong. He did a great job.
Getting the Tour card was a vital step up the ladder for the kiwi team who have lived off a diet of Youth, Level 2 and the occasional Level 1 event for the past three years as they progress and built a profile on the world circuit. This year they have come under the wing of Emirates Team New Zealand, which has helped lift their game.
Minoprio explained the significance of the card: 'the World Tour’s come up with a new invite policy to streamline entries into tour events, and to help with all the media - so each event knows who’s going to come earlier on for promotion and stuff like that.
'This year we’ve got into events based on events supported by Emirates Team New Zealand – and next year we’ll still be supported again by Emirates Team New Zealand, but we’ll be able to get into all the events guaranteed, which means we’ll be able to plan out year – we’ll be able to book flights early, cut costs.'
That tour will entail competing in ten events - not a cheap proposition even with the generous support of sponsors like FedEx and Line 7.
'It’s not cheap for four guys to go and live in Europe away from home for six months of the year, sometimes spending seven months of the year in Europe', explains Minoprio.
'We do 15 regattas – it’s 15 weeks of normally provided accommodation – but we’re up there for 25 weeks. We have to find accommodation for the rest of the time, food for the majority of the time – that’s only the minor expenses – and then the rest of the time is flights. We have to do well in events to cover costs. We do have sponsorship from Fed Ex Express and Line 7 New Zealand – and they’re fantastic, they’ve helped us out a lot – they’ve given us some money to help our year and to take the pressure off at the start of the year with regattas.
'With prize money we’re just covering costs, and we’re always looking for more sponsors to help the program so we can do things better. Ideally, we need more money to be able to afford to go training before World Tour events. So ideally, say we have a regatta of these boats here, we’d want to fly somewhere, i.e. Perth, to go sail identical boats and to train – and at the moment we can’t afford to that.'
Consistency has been a real issue for the young crew, with limited financial resources, often forced to just rock up and sail at a major regatta. Minoprio is under no illusions as to what is required to go to the next stage.
'We have to sail like we did this week, and basically with more consistency. One thing you notice with Ian Williams, who’s the current World Champion – every event he’s in the quarter finals. This year he did every tour event and only one event he didn’t qualify.
'You’ve got to make the quarter finals in every event to give yourself a good shot of getting points to win the World Championship. In the World Championship this year our consistency is what let us down – there’s six events to carry for the title and we’re only carrying five. If we had had another event, we would have easily had third place on the tour.
Looking to the future the team does have aspirations for America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Races. 'But you’ve gotta start little. We need to do our time on the list before we can try and move up.'
'Whatever we achieve in the future, we'll never forget the sponsorship that we had from Fed Ex and Line Seven, and support from Team New Zealand and our yacht club, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron – because without them this year wouldn’t have been possible,' concludes Minoprio.