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Azimut Challenge fleet © Jean-Marie Liot / Défi Azimut
Azimut Challenge fleet © Jean-Marie Liot / Défi Azimut

Route du Rhum

8th Azimut Challenge Preview: Final test before the Route du Rhum

From 21st to 23rd September, the eighth Azimut Challenge will bring together in Lorient La Base, an eclectic line-up with a record-breaking 15 IMOCAs taking part. This event has become one not to miss on the race calendar for the IMOCA class, even if it does not count towards the Globe Series.

With a month and a half to go to the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, this will be a final opportunity for the sailors to see how they measure up against each other. On Friday at five in the afternoon, they will set off at the start of an intense 24-hour solo race. On Sunday, they will take part in speed runs, before a crewed race around the island of Groix.

Out of the 22 sailors registered for the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in the IMOCA category, no fewer than fifteen will take part in the Azimut Challenge. This goes to show how important this event has become for the class. “For the IMOCA, now based in Lorient, the Challenge is a great opportunity to meet up with the skippers, teams and their partners,” explained Antoine Mermod, President of the IMOCA.

A valuable opportunity to do battle

The event will begin with a 24-hour solo race (starting at 1700hrs on Friday), which will enable the sailors to see how they are doing in comparison to their rivals, but it is also a chance to identify what work needs to be done in the final weeks of preparation. “At this time of year, the boats are ready in Route du Rhum mode and this top class race is a valuable opportunity,” explained Louis Burton, perfectly summing up the general attitude shared by the racers, who enjoy what is always a friendly occasion, where they are able to share ideas.

Battle between foilers

Almost two-thirds of the fleet registered for this eighth Azimut Challenge are foilers. Nine of the fifteen IMOCAs taking part are fitted with these appendages. Everyone is looking forward to watching the first battle fought by Jérémie Beyou’s magnificent Charal. He is currently getting used to his new boat and has just completed his qualifier for the Route du Rhum (1200 miles sailed solo). “I m here without any clear race goals, which is unusual for me,” declared Jérémie. “With the team, I’m still finding out about the boat and ensuring the reliability of this highly complicated IMOCA. It’s going to take some time to get used to her and get the most out of her. The Azimut Challenge will enable me to settle in in race mode and continue to work on the boat.”

The winner of the last IMOCA race, the Dhream Cup, British sailor, Sam Davies (Initiatives-Cœur) is setting off with some high ambitions: “The level will be a notch higher in the Azimut Challenge with more competitors, and more foilers. It’s going to be more complicated getting onto the podium. I’d like to sail cleanly and make the right choices to keep up with the other foilers, and in particular, the IMOCAs from the 2016 generation.”

Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Art et Fenêtres) will also be watching closely the performance of the other IMOCAs with foils: “It’s going to be interesting to watch Vincent Riou and PRB – she’s a boat from 2010 to which he has fitted foils, but they are lighter than those in the 2016 generation. As for Ucar-St Michel, we know the boat has a lot of potential as shown by Jean-Pierre Dick, and more recently Yann Eliès, who has got his hands on a tried and tested boat. I’ll be watching in particular to see how Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline – Artipôle) and Alan Roura (La Fabrique) do after fighting it out with them in the Vendée Globe, as they too have decided to fit foils on their boats.”

The Azimut Challenge will be the first solo race for Boris Herrmann aboard Malizia 2-Yacht Club de Monaco. “I’d like to finish well placed, let’s say in the first part of the fleet. I’ll be pushing hard all the time, as will my rivals,” the German skipper told us.

The only sailor to have taken part in every edition of the Azimut Challenge since it was launched in 2011, Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée 2), intends to make the most of his eighth attempt: “As my project is based in Saint-Malo, I don’t very often get the opportunity to see how I measure up against the competition. It’s also for that reason that the Azimut Challenge is an important event for me.”

Everyone in with a chance

The Race Director of the Azimut Challenge, Jacques Caraës will have to come up with a made-to-measure course lasting 24 hours, taking into account the weather conditions that are forecast, but he will also wish to ensure that it is a fair contest. “We’ll come up with a course that offers equal opportunities to foilers and non-foilers, so that everyone can find what they are looking for,” confirmed Jacques Caraës, who will be aided in this task by Guillaume Evrard, general secretary of the IMOCA. Last year, it was in fact Paul Meilhat (SMA) who won the race sailing double-handed with Gwénolé Gahinet. Out of action for several weeks due to an injury, Paul will be hoping that this will be a successful return to racing.

Five other skippers are competing on IMOCAs with straight daggerboards. After a good second place in the Dhream Cup in late July, Isabelle Joschke (Monin) will be tackling the Azimut Challenge well aware of her limits. “I haven’t given myself a clear goal in terms of the result,” explained the sailor. “The Azimut Challenge will only be my second solo race on an IMOCA, after the Dhream Cup. My goals are more personal. I want to sail in a way that matches my project and mindset, get the timing right and in particular avoid any big mistakes.”

Competing aboard his 2007 Finot-Conq designed boat, Stéphane Le Diraison will be taking part in his first race in the framework of his new sporting and societal project, Time For Oceans. In the Top 5 in the Drheam Cup, Romain Attanasio (Pure-Famille Mary) wants to maintain this impetus and keep up with the big names. At the end of a very busy summer during which he did a lot of sailing, Manuel Cousin (Groupe Setin) will find out whether all the hard work has paid off. Erik Nigon (Vers un monde sans sida) will be competing in the big race in the Azimut Challenge for the first time. He too will have a lot of lessons to learn from this intense and hard fought race.

The schedule

After the solo race on Friday and Saturday, the sailors will be back again on Sunday for two events with a crew: firstly speed runs and then a race around the island of Groix. For this final race, weather conditions permitting, they will be attempting to smash the record set in 2015 by Vincent Riou and his crew: one hour eight minutes and 10 seconds.

The line-up for the 2018 Azimut Challenge

Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Art et Fenêtres) – Foiler
Romain Attanasio (Pure-Famille Mary)
Jérémie Beyou (Charal) – Foiler
Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline-Artipôle) – Foiler
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée 2) – Foiler
Manuel Cousin (Groupe Sétin)
Samantha Davies (Initiatives-Cœur) – Foiler
Yann Eliès (Ucar-StMichel) – Foiler
Boris Herrmann (Malizia 2-Yacht Club de Monaco) – Foiler
Isabelle Joschke (Monin)
Stéphane Le Diraison (Time For Oceans)
Paul Meilhat (SMA)
Erik Nigon (Vers un monde sans SIDA)
Vincent Riou (PRB) – Foiler
Alan Roura (La Fabrique) – Foiler

by IMOCA Globe Series

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