The Saem Vendée held a press conference last Monday in Les Sables d’Olonne to announce the list of 28 candidates who, to date, have finalized their application for the Vendée Globe 2024 and also to announce the appointment of Hubert Lemonnier as Race Director of the Round the World Race. Tip & Shaft spoke with Lemonnier.
► Can you tell us about your background and how you came to specialize in race direction?
I grew up in La Rochelle where I learned to sail with my family and with the club, but mostly for leisure. And I studied Chinese so I got the chance to join the Chinese challenge for the 2007 America’s Cup, via Luc Gellusseau who is also from La Rochelle. And China Team was an offshoot of the French challenge for the 2000 Cup, 6e Sens and 2003 with the Areva Challenge, both of which Luc was part of. So I got into the world of professional sailing for the first time during the 32nd Cup in Valencia. Then, as the Volvo Ocean Race made two stops in Singapore and China, Hervé Le Quilliec, who was in charge of the Ericsson team, asked me to help him with these Asian legs. As I also wanted to sail, I pushed and I joined the team in Lanzarote where they were training, I was able to sail and help look after the two boats a little. That got me into the technical side and also logistics. I then did a year of logistics for the French Athletics Federation in 2010. I had my first experience of race management on the Barcelona World Race 2010 alongside Denis Horeau, before joining Groupama for the Volvo 2010-2011. I also was with the Land Rover team in Extreme 40 and I worked again on the Barcelona World Race in 2014 with Jacques Caraës. From there I really started to specialize more in the race director at his side. We continued with the Vendée Globe in 2016, and then, as “Jaco” was on the rise and was doing more and more races, I accompanied him each time, like in the New York Vendée, the Brest Atlantiques, the Azimut Challenge, the Bermudes 1000 Race…
► What prompted you to apply for the role on the Vendée Globe 2024?
First of all the passion that has grown inside me for this race, it’s a heady cocktail of adventure and humanity every time. But in that mix there is Jaco’s objective to slow down a bit after the last Vendée Globe but at the same time he wants to pass on his skills and knowledge. That gave me this desire to get here. So I started doing important related work twenty months ago which complements the specialism even more, by joining the Imoca class in October 2021 as sports and operations manager. For me there has been no better role, it allowed me to learn more about understanding the whole ecosystem around the Imoca and the Vendée Globe. This position is a continuation of what I do in race management, in the sense that the class needed someone who is on the ground, with the teams, all the time having a global, big picture understanding of what the race represents. Thanks to all this experience, I’m not arriving ‘green’ a year and a half before the start of the Vendée Globe. Today, I feel legitimate in a role that I have worked a lot towards. Now it will be interesting to move on to this next stage.
► Are you going to keep this position at Imoca? Is there not the risk of conflict of interest with that of race director of the Vendée Globe?
Yes, there is a period there may be a conflict of interest, particularly, in my opinion, in the year 2024, but contractually, I will have to leave the class in 2023, so that’s what I’ll do in the month of June.
“In the end, it’s just a small change
internally in our organization”
► Do you now have all the official authorizations to become race director of the Vendée Globe, a category A race?
It is an ongoing process, because I do not yet have my final clearance. In agreement with the French Sailing Federation, which appoints the race directors, I still have to do two more category A races as director in 2023, which will be the case with the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race and the Azimut Challenge. I have also applied for Retour à La Base.
► Will you also be the race director of the New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne, which will start on May 29, 2024?
In the contract signed with Saem, yes, I am also the race director for that event. This will also be one of my priorities in the coming weeks, since the first objective is to write the notice of race, then we will have to go quickly to New York to see the installations, check the moorings, the crew areas… That is all the first big chapter.
► Having Jacques Caraës in your team is reassuring?
Yes, it’s obvious that it’s a guarantee of some sense of security to have good, solid, experienced people like Jaco around you for such a position. But really at the end of the day this is just a small change internally in our organization, insofar as Jacques remains on the team, but that is also the case for Claire Renou and Pierre Hays, with whom we have been collaborating for more than five years. Our partnership with Jacques works well, we have the same values, with people, but also we have our ways we work and they are complementary. And we also have Yann (Eliès) by our side, who is bound to bring a lot on board because of his racing experience.
“Potentially 42 candidates”
► Today there are 28 candidates who have finalized their application, the deadline for submission is October 2, 2023, how many candidates do you imagine there being in another six months?
Potentially, I can imagine a little more than 40, around 42, now. Historically, we have always been a little below the maximum number [40 on this edition], there is still a lot of water to flow under the bridge between now and then. It can be complicated for some, but I can’t say today about the exact number we will have in July 2024 [after the New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne, the last qualifying race, editor’s note].
► There is a lot of dock talk at the moment about the possible wild card available to Saem Vendée which they could give, if necessary, to Clarisse Crémer if she can’t be selected via the race for miles, are you going to have a say on this subject?
No, not at all, I mainly take care of the sailors, I update myself on the project from now on, but all these arrangements are the responsibility of Saem. The president (Alain LeBoeuf) has expressed his point of view several times on this subject, I don’t get involved.
► You are moving into a position that can encounter a lot of pressure, between racers, partners, the class, organizer, does that worry you?
It’s true that for me, it’s going to be a bit new, even if I was close to and saw how things went with Jacques when he was on the front line. But I think that because of the strength of our group, we will keep a certain autonomy to enforce sporting fairness, so for the moment, perhaps out of ignorance, that does not scare me!
► What is your view of The Ocean Race which is being contested at the moment, with a stage in the Southern Oceans during which the new boats seem to be doing rather well?
It’s very encouraging. They’re having a few problems nonetheless, some minor technical problems, but it’s also because, as the boats are crewed, they are pushed quite hard, as we can see with some mind-blowing speeds. I don’t want to prejudge the end of the stage, but if they all finish in Itajai [only Guyot Environnement-Team Europe has given up, editor’s note], the test in the Deep South will have been successful with these Imocas put on the water this year or in 2022. So we can see that the technical choices are quite positive in terms of the performance of the boats. For us also in race management, it’s a good rehearsal ahead of the Vendée Globe, it allows us to see the processes for everything related to weather files, ice areas, the various contacts, we return to subjects that we had left aside after the last edition, so at all levels, this Ocean Race in the Imocas for the first time is very rich.
Photo: Jean-Marie Liot / Alea