In a number of domains, this 7th edition of the Vendée Globe will have been synonymous with an avalanche of records: sporting ones primarily, as well as records for public and media infatuation.
For IMOCA, the aim now is to capitalise on this success so as to support a four-year circuit.
During the prize-giving for the solo sailors in the Vendée Globe, nearly 80,000 enthusiasts made the journey to Les Sables d’Olonne. Few sporting events could play host to a crowd equivalent to almost a full Wembley Stadium for an official ceremony…
Ultimately nearly 1,500,000 people came to witness the departure or the arrival of the sailors in Les Sables d’Olonne. In terms of media notoriety, the Vendée Globe has hoisted itself up to the status of sporting events like the Tour de France or Roland Garros. IMOCA has played its part in this and is keen to continue contributing to this success.
An exceptional standard of sporting prowess
It took a little over 78 days of racing for François Gabart (MACIF), followed three hours later by runner-up Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire). Side by side these two figures testify to the intensity of the competition, which was a straight fight between two remarkable sailors, who sailed neck and neck for a long while, even in the South Pacific. The record and the little separating the runners and riders are indicative of how the bar has been raised in relation to the previous edition. And it would in no way be an insult to the 2009 competitors to note that from the winner to 9th placed Bertrand de Broc (Votre Nom autour du Monde avec EDM Projets), every one of this year’s vintage would have made the podium four years earlier. Further evidence of the sporting value of this 2012 – 2013 edition lies in the fact that despite the exceptional time racked up by François Gabart, it’s the smallest deficit ever recorded between the winner and the last ranked competitor, Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique).
Breakage: a mixture of misfortune and incident
The initial fortnight of racing could have caused onlookers to fear the worse: seven retirements out of a fleet of twenty starters was a heavy toll. However, you first have to be able to distinguish between a peril of the sea and a possible mechanical incident among the competing monohulls. Four retirements were clearly due to collisions: Kito de Pavant (Groupe Bel) and Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) collided with fishing trawlers, Vincent Riou (PRB) hit a harbour buoy adrift in the ocean, Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) broke his keel ram after colliding with a UFO. Sam Davies (Savéol) suffered a dismasting on a boat, which was sound, with a tried and tested mast. Meantime Zbigniew Gutkowski (Energa) paid for his lack of preparation time.
The fact remains that three IMOCAs lost their keel in this latest Vendée Globe, Safran (Marc Guillemot), Virbac-Paprec 3 (Jean-Pierre Dick) and ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered (Javier Sanso). Having gathered at the General Meeting, IMOCA has already made some proposals to find a solution for this irrefutable fact. However, the general freshness of the boats at the finish shows that a new level has been reached in terms of technical preparation.
Through its duration and intensity, the Vendée Globe undoubtedly remains the toughest race on IMOCA’s event schedule; the Justice of the Peace for the IMOCA fleet if you will. With a view to improving the reliability of the monohulls, as well as reducing the construction and maintenance costs, the Class’ recent General Meeting pronounced itself in favour of two simple measures. First of all, the adoption of a standardised keel made entirely of steel and boasting a high safety factor. Secondly, the choice between two standardised rigs, a classic mast with spreaders or a wing mast with outriggers.
The pooling of costs and spare parts and improved safety factors are two trends very much supported by the vast majority of the teams involved in the circuit. Though the proposed solution leaves the door open to the work of architects, it also enables the circuit to be fleshed out by some of what are at times older craft, which continue to delight a racer whose aim is to discover the Vendée Globe, as was the case this year for Alessandro Di Benedetto and Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur).
A versatile circuit
For a class to thrive though, it needs to have races. This is the direction being taken by the partnership between IMOCA and OSM, the structure put in place by Sir Keith Mills to promote the Class internationally. In its line of sight is the constitution and reinforcement of a perennial circuit over a four-year period, alternating between round the worlds and transatlantic races in singlehanded and double-handed configuration, with some crewed events. For 2013, the next major meet will be the Transat Jacques Vabre in November 2013, prior to The Transat race in the spring of 2014, which will precede the Route du Rhum then the Barcelona World Race, the latter of which will be the grand finale of the 2013-2014 Championship.
An attractive programme in prospect then over the next two years, with the Vendée Globe 2016 as a backdrop, which is sure to live up to its reputation.