Alpari World Match Racing Tour Director Craig Mitchell explains about the 'Tour Card' system © Photo by Dan Towers / OnEdition
London, UK (14th April 2014): Andy Rice talks to Alpari World Match Racing Tour Director Craig Mitchell about what it takes to secure one of the much sought after ‘Tour Cards’ to compete on the Match Racing World Championship circuit.
Every year on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, eight teams are allocated a ‘Tour Card’, a magic ticket which guarantees a place at every event on the World Championship circuit. The three podium finishers from the previous season automatically earn the right to return, and so reigning champions - Taylor Canfield and USone - are joined this year by 2013 runner-up Ian Williams’ GAC Pindar and third-placed Phil Robertson and WAKA Racing.
Tour Director Craig Mitchell is part of the group that selects the remaining five teams to receive a much-coveted Tour Card. Mitchell has been working at the top of match racing for more than a decade, and says the Tour Card concept brings continuity to the season. “When we used to be the Swedish Match Tour, the event organisers were all in charge of their own invites to their events, and they invited who they wanted based on ISAF grading criteria and their own preferences. This made it tricky for a team to be able to plan their year, find sponsors, and to make any real assault on the overall title, as most events only tended to release their invites three months beforehand. As a team, you didn't know if you were going to get invites throughout the year”.
“So the Tour management team created the Tour Card concept,” explains Mitchell. “The benefits were multifold, but mainly it was to give the sailors the opportunity sell themselves as a Tour competitor, which should make it easier for them to find a sponsor. Up to that point, a sailor would go to a potential sponsor who of course would ask, 'What events are you doing?'. The sailor didn’t know, so it was a still-born sponsorship proposal.”
For the first year, back in 2009, the Tour Card holders were picked straight off the Tour leaderboard and the ISAF world rankings, but Mitchell says the system today is a development of that. “The Tour is also a commercial and media operation and we are looking for sailors who are not just at the top of their game technically, but who are aware of the wider requirements of being a professional athlete. It’s not just about being top 8 in the ISAF rankings, we are selling entertainment as well.
Someone who's a great match racer but can’t handle the onshore expectations will have a lower commercial value, so we need to excerciose some flexibility in who is allocated a Tour Card. You need to take an overview approach - find your sponsor, sort your logistics and manage your PR. You need to be savvy on all those things. We’re looking for great sailors with all those skills, who look smart, present themselves well, and who help us to help them. It’s not just about sailing around a course quickly. If you can't put all the elements together, it will be more difficult to make it on the Tour.”
So the top three from 2013 were an automatic pick, and of the five remaining spots, two are put aside for Wild Cards. This year they have been awarded to Francesco Bruni and his Luna Rossa crew from Italy, and David Gilmour and Team Gilmour from Australia. “Bruni won a silver medal on the Tour in 2011, and he came back to win last year’s Argo Group Gold Cup in Bermuda. With the America’s Cup connection with Luna Rossa, Bruni was an obvious choice for us, he will definitely be challenging for the title this year” says Mitchell. “David Gilmour did well at some of the Tour events last year as a qualifier, and he won the ISAF Nation’s Cup in Denmark. Also he’s a new recruit to the America’s Cup campaign, Team Australia. He’s the next generation of high level talent.” And he’s the son of match racing legend, Peter Gilmour, and continues that strong line of match racing specialists to come out of Perth.
Which leaves three others to be picked from the 15-or-so applications that the Tour received from other contenders at the top of the match racing world. In the end they went to three strong performers from last season, Bjorn Hansen of Sweden, Keith Swinton - another strong match racer from Perth - and Mathieu Richard who made the most of some Wild Card entries last year including victory at the Korea Match Cup. “Richard deserves his place this year,” says Mitchell. “He trod the hard path last year, didn’t get invites to all the events but made the most of what he had, except for a disaster in Bermuda which ruined his overall chances of getting on to the podium.”
As for who’s going to win? Well, a year ago few gave Taylor Canfield much of a chance of winning the Tour in his first full season. Match Racing doesn’t usually work like that, but the newcomers will draw heart from Canfield’s success and look to upset the apple cart again in 2014.
The 2014 championship gets underway at Match Race Germany on 5 June. The Alpari World Match Racing Tour is one of five special events sanctioned under the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) including America's Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race, the Extreme Sailing Series and the PWA World Tour.