Someone who has followed closely the progress of the IMOCA skippers is Christian Le Pape, Director of Pole France in Port-la-Foret, and he had the chance to go training with 4 potential winners of this next Route du Rhum event : Vincent Riou (PRB), Francois Gabart (MACIF), Marc Guillemot (Safran) and Jérémie Beyou (Maitre CoQ). He had one specific observation – never has the performance gap been so close between them.
A level of control never seen before
« What was so amazing was to see the level of ease with which they all perform. They are all at their physical peak, they know in fine detail every aspect of their boat’s movements, they really are ‘at one’ with their machines. We have reached a level of control which certainly was not achieved on the Figaro boats. Sure we have gone from a boat of 10 metres to an ocean going race machine of 60 feet so the issues faced and the efforts needed are not at all the same. »
Training and apprenticeship
« At times, one might wonder what they have left to learn. You think they don’t need us anymore to progress forward…each one seems to know perfectly on what areas they need to focus and work on. At the same time, the training centre gives them a framework through which they can exchange and share. This culture of working together is one its greatest successes. Now, its up to us to be more creative, to find new ways of training and development. Right now, we are in a stable period : we have skippers that have competed in the IMOCA circuit for a long time, they know how the training centre works. The only regret is that there are not more new members in the fleet. There is lots of young talent who want to get involved and would take all their places if they could. »
« What is striking is to see how the skippers who have been through the training are so close to one another. They all have the ability to close the gaps and reach the levels of the others. I can think of two examples that really demonstrate that : when Safran arrived in 2007, the feeling was that Marc Guillemot really was a long way ahead of the others. Now, simply the building of a new boat will not deliver those differences in performance, especially as all the teams are pushing ahead to find ways to compensate for any shortfalls. The other example is Vincent Riou : he radically changed his approach to competing by introducing a rigorous way of evaluating performance, that was a really new approach for him. »
There is going to be a real sporting battle
« For me its clear : the biggest sporting battle for this event will be in the IMOCA Ocean Masters class. In the Ultimes, the differences between the boats are too great for the result to be significant and in the other classes, the different standards between the competitors are too great. In the IMOCA class, the level is equal, they will all leave with the aim of maximising performance. Anyhow for the members of our training centre, the main aim is clear : victory !! »