On Wednesday Paprec were announced as the main partners of La Solitaire du Figaro as well as becoming the official title partners of the Figaro Beneteau 3s biennial Transat en Double Concarneau-Saint-Barthélemy race which now becomes a ‘mixed doubles’ race. Both races are organised by OC Sport Pen Duick. Tip & Shaft explores these developments.
Involved in ocean racing since the mid-1990s, most notably co-sponsoring Jean-Pierre Dick on the Imoca circuit, the Paprec Group formalized their notably increased support of sailing this week. First up they becomes the new title partner of what will now be known as the Transat Paprec. As background the historical sponsors since the first edition back in 1992, AG2R La Mondiale, told OC Sport Pen Duick in January 2020 that they would not continue beyond the 2020 race (which was postponed for a year). And as well as that agreement they become the main partner of La Solitaire du Figaro, which did not have a title partner after the withdrawal of Urgo at the end of the 50th edition, in 2019.
The first contacts between OC Sport Pen Duick, organizer of the two races, and the Paprec Groupe which is led by Sébastien Petithuguenin date back about a year. “It was done in two stages,” Hervé Favre, CEO of OC Sport tells Tip & Shaft. “ We approached them for the first time in April 2021 to tell them about La Solitaire and as often happens it did not work out at the first try but finally, they called us back in October saying that they wanted to chat…”
Sébastien Petithuguenin continues: “I came to the stopover of La Solitaire last summer in Lorient. The discussion started quite gently. I myself took part in the race in 2018 [20th place overall, victory in the amateur division Editor’s note], and so I have a very strong attachment to this class. We were then thinking about becoming partners in sailing on several different levels or options. We asked ourselves the questions about sponsoring in the Figaro, of developing the sector, we finally decided to take the opportunity offered by OC Sport and then everything really accelerated at the end of the year.“
In particular the main topic of the discussions were about the format of the double-handed transatlantic race about which the organizers and Paprec shared the same vision, both wanting some kind of change.
“We offered three options to Paprec, a solo transatlantic, mixed doubles and a rookie/experienced sailor pairing, which aligned with what the Figaro class wanted to do with its Academy. And they chose the mixed doubles”, confirms Hervé Favre. “We wanted our partnership to be something practical and useful,” adds Sébastien Petithuguenin. “I was in Hyères last week [for the Semaine Olympique Française, ed note], “ And there we see classes like the Nacra doing very well in mixed doubles. It is a format which generates strong support and brings out emerging talents. For us, it makes a lot of sense to open up the possibility for women to access other circuits more widely.”
The formalization of the doubles partnership was scheduled for mid-December last year but it is finally postponed several times and in the end announced almost five months later. “It was very important to us that all the stakeholders were really on board; however, we hadn’t reached a form of consensus on the format of the Transat Paprec. We had proposed mixed doubles it had to be accepted by all the stakeholders”, explains the CEO of Paprec Group.
The new format does not engender universal enthusiasm within the Figaro Beneteau class, as confirmed by a survey of its members. “In fact there was a majority who wanted to to keep the choice open between competing in the transatlantic as a mixed doubles or not,” confirms Marcus Hutchison a member of the board of directors and the racing commission, himself a fervent supporter of the mixed doubles. “ But it was not no longer a closed door.” For Hervé Favre, “They [members] would have preferred it to be done more gradually over time. From our point of view, either we went all out or not at all.”
Asked by Tip & Shaft Jeanne Grégoire, director of the Finistère offshore racing division, responded: “I am always embarrassed by quotas, but if we don’t do it like this we will always have trouble getting more girls. But on the other hand, young racers who hoped to take an older sailor to mentor them a bit on the transatlantic to learn and prepare for the season will have to change their approach. And the sporting level will not necessarily be as high as we have seen in the last editions .”
Sophie Faguet has already made the Transat Paprec a priority project and considers the announcement is good news: “Paprec has been fully into sailing for years, it gives the arena credibility, I still think that with a strong partner like this then this kind of decision is gradually accepted more easily by sailors and their sponsoring partners.”
The doubles partnership is a long-term one, since the group has committed to three editions of the double-handed transatlantic race and seven editions of La Solitaire! “We had proposed two editions of the transat, they wanted to commit to three, so these are exceptional partnerships”, enthuses Hervé Favre.
“Before even talking about diversity, you just have to say to yourself that it’s absolutely brilliant for the Figaro circuit to finally have a partner who is committed for such a long period, it’s a huge recognition for this circuit that produces so many champions“, adds Jeanne Grégoire.
Ten to fifteen boats
expected in 2023
“As we do on our Imoca program with Arkéa [with Sébastien Simon on the last Vendée Globe, Yoann Richomme for the next one, new boat at stake, Editor’s note], we want to give ourselves the time to succeed“, comments Sebastien Petithugunenin. For the first edition of the transatlantic for mixed doubles which will start in April 2023 from Concarneau he thinks we should see “about fifteen boats“. Hervé Favre reckons on “between ten and fifteen” but adds, “We are aware that it will not happen overnight, that’s also why we are very happy to make announcements now. This leaves a full year for those who want to race to find the money and to train. I think only after three years will we be able to say whether the concept has really worked. What is certain is that we will do plenty of promotion.”
Marcus Hutchinson is convinced that the new format will find particular support outside of France as well “The Transat Paprec will be the flagship race for mixed doubles. Even if the Olympic event for Paris 2024 didn’t happen it triggered a lot of interest abroad: offshore doubles is much more popular today than 5-10 years ago and mixed doubles immediately caught on.” For Hutchinson the ideal next step would be for newcomers is to get into a Figaro Beneteau 3 and to try their hand at La Solitaire. That is echoed by Sébastien Petithuguenin: “I have this dream of thinking long term that that both men and women will want to get into La Solitaire.”
And so Paprec becomes a heavyweight
supporter of French sailing
Paprec have chosen not to become naming partner of La Solitaire du Figaro – “It carries a certain cultural heritage, a particular place in the history of ocean racing and we don’t want to change its name”, explains the CEO of Paprec, “But we do hope to get some of the big names back. Hence the creation of a Legends Trophy, a special prize reserved for those who are linked with the history of the race – according to criteria to be defined (podium overall, stage victories, number of participations…) – but who no longer have the time to line up for all the races on the circuit.”
Meantime between the new Imoca, a Wally 107 to replace the TP52 – “We wanted to participate in transats and races like the Sydney-Hobart, which the TP52 is not so good for”, explains Sébastien Petithuguenin – and now the two Figaro class partnerships, Paprec really do became a heavyweight of French sailing, like the “historic” Banque Populaire and Sodebo. Petithuguenin asserts: “Our ambition is to be a major partner in sailing, we want to do our part to bolster this sector and we hope that others will now follow us, in particular to support the Tour de France à la voile .”
The cost of all this? “Several million euros [per year], we do not want to communicate on the exact amount, but it is a significant partnership, the growth of the company [2.2 billion euros in turnover in 2021, Editor’s note] allows us to free up new resources, it’s more money for the world of sailing.” And this of course allows OC Sport to stabilize the budgets and costs for the two events – estimated by Hervé Favre at 2 million euros for the Solitaire, 1.2 million for the Transat Paprec -, but also to make them more attractive, with in particular an increase significant prize money (40%) recently announced for La Solitaire.
Photo: Alexis Courcoux