A record number of entries, a staggered re-start on the first stage, a volcanic eruption in the Canaries, unprecedented comebacks, unsettled trade winds, yes each Mini Transat is unique, but this 2021 edition will long be remembered for a whole gamut of reasons. It also was a great race won conclusively by Pierre Le Roy in the prototype division and Hugo Dhallenne in the series. Tip & Shaft takes stock of the sport and the technical stuff on this 23rd Mini.
Some 28 years after his first Mini, Wednesday’s finish of Pierre Meilhat, father of Paul and one of the 15 returning racers of field of 90 marked the final finish of this Mini Transat EuroChef 2021. After leaving Les Sables d’Olonne on September 27, the race saw 84 of the 90 competitors have their dreams come true. This Mini Transat followed the general trend of the 2021 season, with a very low number of retirements: three in series and three in prototypes to be precise.
The weather was particularly good between Santa Cruz de la Palma and Saint-François, Guadeloupe on a second stage that race director Denis Hugues describes as “more tactical than physical”. The stop in Galicia by the great majority of the competitors during the first stage to dodge a strong gale also had a big positive effect on the reliability of the fleet. Even if this stop caused a little controversy (read our article), the unprecedented 24-hour for repairs granted by the jury to a large part of the fleet “did not ultimately upset the sporting ethos of this edition,” confirms Jean Lorre, president of the Mini 6.50 class. “The whole Mini family is back together in Guadeloupe and any bad memories of this stage are behind us.”
Without the redress Melwin Fink, one of the few competitors who did not stop during the first stage, would have put his name on the race history in series race but he finished 18 hours and 19 minutes behind Hugo Dhallenne, overall winner. The young German, 22nd in the second stage at Saint-François, finally finished 3rd overall.
This second stage revealed some unexpected names (Loïc Blin, 3rd in series, Arnaud Biston, 6th on his old Manuard 2005 design) but also saw the hopes of many fancied competitors dashed. Those who played the direct rhumb line course paid a price. Were these routings written in the road-books of the routers? “We knew that the trade winds were very disturbed but this is not the first time that the South has paid,” explains Christian Dumard, weather advisor for the organization. “All the pre-start routings took them down to between 12 and 14 degrees of latitude, some even up at 10 degrees. After that, you had to have the courage of your convictions to go there.” This option, which paid off, in fact lengthened the course considerably: Pierre Le Roy, the big winner in the prototype, thus covered 3,280 miles while the rhumb line was measured at only 2,500!
Some who found themselves stuck in the north and dropping on the standings bailed out of the situation in time, like Léo Debiesse who saved his 6th place in the series on the leg to Saint-François (4th overall). The best readjustment south obviously goes to Hugo Dhallenne who crossed the entire fleet after 7 days of racing to go sout. After being 27th during the first days, he won into Guadeloupe with impressive speed.
“He made his gains after a big mistake at the start, but when he understood his mistake, he was able to rectify it and get back into it, and it paid. It’s strong, it’s the good racers who know how to do that”, confided the router Jean-Yves Bernot in Tip & Shaft # 290. “Usually in the Mini, you play on your making gybe. Hugo had the audacity and the talent to readjust. The scows make it possible to do that more easily, even if, obviously, all the boats were very close”, analysis David Raison, the designer of the Maxi 650.
Double successes for the Raison designs
The victory of Hugo Dhallenne who dominated the pre-season in the series fleet (and finished second in the first stage) is also a win for the Maxi 650, a first for the IDB Marine yard. With a Maxi650, a Vector650 (Alberto Riva) and a Pogo3 (Melwin Fink) on the series podium, the constructors’ game was very close. “In 2019, Ambrogio Beccaria had the edge by driving the boat fast in the breeze. This year, everyone could keep up with the pace and we can see that the boats are very close”, confirms Erwan Tymen, technical manager of the Structures shipyard, builder of the Pogo.
The Maxi 650’s production series victory comes on top of TeamWork’s proto win, the last of the Maximums to be built last year. After 2017 and 2019 (865 sailed by Ian Lipinski then François Jambou), this is the third time that the Raison design has won. This is an unprecedented treble in the history of the Mini, “one for the the most versatile and always well-run scow”, notes Etienne Bertrand, designer of the Vector (series).
Pierre Le Roy’s unchallenged victory also sounds like that of commitment and preparation, as his runner-up Fabio Muzzolini explained at the finish: “To win a Mini Transat, you first have to carry out a project and Hugo (Pierre?) Did it superbly well. He also managed his boat very well. For the anecdote, we are neighbors in Brittany. Every day during the preparation, I was therefore able to check what he was doing . I knew it wouldn’t be easy to beat him. ”
“The foiling boats are
complicated to manage solo”
Big loser on this Mini Transat, Tanguy Bouroullec, who won the first stage on his foiler designed by Guillaume Verdier and still finished third (in the stage and overall) in Saint-François, after two fourth places in 2017 and 2019. The medium conditions of this edition seemed favorable for his foiler. “I had a bad memory of the southern route from before and so I did not go down far enough. I had between 8 and 13 knots of wind the whole race. It takes 15 knots to get foiling and I pushed it as I could. My bowsprit broke twice,” the skipper told Tip & Shaft.
However, is the future of foilers called into question in the Mini? “Two handed in the pre-season, it’s very efficient but solo, it’s still very complicated to manage. You have to be able to go simply,” said Ambroggio Beccaria the winner of the Mini in 2019 and who has raced a lot with Tanguy. “They will win one day, but on the scale of a Mini project this is the ascent by the North face. And then, the costs are difficult to justify” analyzes David Raison who was consulted for a foiler but declined.
On the other hand Raison has already three orders for evolutions of the Maximum, currently under construction, and considers that two or three other serious projects could join them. Many series competitors once they reached their destination, expressed their aim to move to the prototype class. This augurs well for renewed vitality for series boats and confirms the good health of the Mini class.
Photo: Vincent Olivaud / Mini Transat EuroChef