‘We’ve left no stone unturned’
WHATEVER happens in the 2016 UIM Jetsprint World Championships, Gisborne’s Blake Briant is certain of one thing — he could not be more ready. Two years of preparation come down to two days of performing when Briant hits the water tomorrow in the first round of the worlds at Meremere.
Briant, with partner Kate Hoogerbrug in the navigator’s seat, has a great chance of continuing a family legacy, which could see a third Briant family member crowned world champion in Mount Maunganui next weekend. The pair, on form, are the front-runners in the group A class of the two-round champs featuring 60 boats from four nations competing over three classes — superboats, group A and group B.
Briant and his team, including father and five-times world superboats champion Peter, headed to the Meremere Sprint Bowl yesterday morning on the back of a game-changing start to the six-round New Zealand championships.
The Briant boat dominated round 1 at Meremere in December — winning the top three title run-off by three seconds — then made it two from two earlier this month with a 0.29sec victory over arch-rivals Sam Newdick (Hamilton) and Glenn Mason (Gisborne) in round 2 at Wanganui.
That has them feeling “very positive” heading into tomorrow though that is significantly tempered by the the unpredictability of this sport.
“You never know what is going to happen,” said Blake, who was on the wrong end of that, albeit off the track, when fire destroyed the family workshop at Patutahi in September of 2015. Inside was the boat they were gearing up for the nationals, with the longer-term aim of the worlds.
It was back to square one and they did an incredible job to be ready with a new package for round 2 of the NZ champs. Missing round 1 meant no chance of winning the NZ title but Briant sent a warning to his rivals by winning rounds 3 (at Meremere) and 4 (Hastings).
Addressing the finer detailsThe work behind the scenes has not stopped.
“We’ve put in some serious hours and preparation in the workshop. We’ve left no stone unturned. We had a definite edge in the first two rounds (of the 2015-2016 NZ champs) and we’ve continued to develop and perfect what we’ve got. Our approach has very much been about the finer details. We haven’t tried to chase any big gains, we’re addressing the little issues. Ten small gains can produce one big one.”
He acknowledges they have set a benchmark but expects a wolf-like chasing pack led by Newdick, who has yet to get his new engine on song.
“It’s possible 1NZ will find another gear,” said Briant. “They certainly are a team who won’t sit back and do nothing and Sam’s a very gifted driver.”
Briant points out, however, that the sport is about “the whole package”.
“Everything has to do its job. You have one weak link and you’re toast.” Having father Peter right behind him has been pivotal. “It’s handy having these grey-haired guys on board,” he joked.
Making historyPeter produced arguably the greatest jetsprinting package in jetsprinting history, which saw him and navigator/partner and now wife Robyn dominate the sport in the early-to-mid 2000s. Younger brother Rex joined the party at group A level and in 2004 the brothers made history by completing a world championship double. Blake is obviously aware of his opportunity to join them.
“It would be nice to add to the legacy but it’s not at the front of my mind. There’s a lot of racing history and success in our family but once we hit the water, it becomes irrelevant. We would not be here without that level of support and expertise in our camp but that all ceases to exist when we hit water.”
Having Hoogerbrug next to him through the process has been “awesome”. They have a couple of small sponsors but it has largely been in-house and a huge sacrifice. Hoogerbrug would testify to that.
“We’re like ships in the night,” she said, referring to Briant and his father burning the midnight candle in the workshop. “This is my second season and to be a part of the worlds in New Zealand is quite a privilege.”
Robyn Briant had been “a huge help” when it came to navigational advice. Kate actually wore Robyn’s helmet and Peter’s shoes during her first season. Big shoes she and Blake are hungry to fill.
“We’ve been building towards this for the last two years. We’re confident we have done all we can. We just have to make the weekend go according to plan . . . easier said than done.”