After their grand slam a month ago in Sydney, Quentin Delapierre’s French team compete on Saturday and Sunday at the penultimate Grand Prix of SailGP season 3 in Christchurch (New Zealand). Tip & Shaft take the chance to talk to Thierry Douillard, coach of Les Bleus, a role he will also fulfil within the French America’ Cup challenge, Orient Express Team.
► Can you tell us how you prepare for a Grand Prix?
In between events we all join up and have weekly meetings together, which we call “perf meetings”, which we share with other individuals or with smaller loops. The objective for us is to arrive at each Grand Prix with very clear ideas of three main objectives that the whole team strive for. We have seen that times when we have not been sufficiently clear about these objectives, it was more difficult to get into the game, because once we are there on site, we don’t have time. Here now we have just crossed the globe, we are Wednesday evening in Christchurch (Wednesday morning in France), we will spend Thursday finalizing all the little details on the boat, the guys have a safety refresh to do in water, and we have just one hour of sailing before the three official training races on Friday (finally cancelled) and then of course two days of Grand Prix racing. So we don’t have time to be feeling around for stuff, we have to be right into the game right away, all the work done upstream is so we can do that.
► What are the three objectives for this New Zealand event?
We really keep them to ourselves, but it can be parts of the race course that we want to work on in particular, points on communication, settings. The important thing is that everyone is connected with these three points and well focused on them.
► Are you also doing a lot of work with the data which is freely accessible for all the teams?
We are lucky to actually have a shared service of the performance of all the boats, each team can also also work directly with the three SailGP developers/performance analysts on specific requirements, that’s what we do. Me, my role will be to oversee a bit of everything and to be sure that we are not missing anything. Afterwards the area I really spend a lot of time on, is the video analysis and the internal communication on the boats, ours and the others.
► Has this shared service helped you a lot to progress?
I would say it was the way we have used it that really helped us make progress. The information we receive is very factual, these are reports from which we then have to work from and which we then mix with videos to find the operating points of the boat that interest us in a team.
“The Australian Grand Slam
was so big for us!”
► How was the actual experience of Sydney Grand Slam with three races won out of three raced (Sunday was cancelled)?
Considering the level of performance on this league, achieving the grand slam like that is pretty incredible, it’s only been done once before, by Pete Burling. And doing it in Sydney, ahead of the Australians, the undisputed leaders of the league, was so big for us! Quentin and the guys were very precise in the pre-start phases, the reaching leg and the first gybe, but also they were super opportunistic when openings presented themselves. Today, they have a super solid background that allows you to sail clean when you are ahead or in the pack and to get out of it when opportunities arise.
► What is it that Quentin Delapierre has?
Quentin’s strength is that the F50 is a boat that speaks to him, he has a great feel for it and he is able to integrate the technological side very well, to put a precise number to his sensations, and that makes the big difference. It allowed him to progress very quickly using all the data which we have access to. He really understands how the boat works, he feels it at the helm and he is able to play with the parameters to help the crew find the right settings. In recent years I don’t remember a team capable of reaching such a level in such a short time, against competitors who have a lot of F50 experience, the likes of Tom Slingsby, Jimmy Spithill, Ben Ainslie or Peter Burling. Quentin and the guys are now on par, if not better, than these big names, some of whom have won the America’s Cup. Now, the objective is to reproduce that at each Grand Prix, because the hardest thing is to remain at the very high level.
► You are third in the standings, can we dream of seeing the French team win season 3 in early May in San Francisco?
Bruno (Dubois, team manager) and Quentin set a very clear objective at the start of the season [to be racing in the Super Final on the last day, with only the top three, editor’s note], today, we are in the mix, even if it is not yet decided. We still have this Grand Prix then San Francisco to get into the Super Final, but if we look at the last results, we were fourth in Chicago and Plymouth, second in Copenhagen, fourth in Saint-Tropez, we won in Cadiz, second in Dubai, we really underperformance in Singapore by making eight and we won in Sydney, so we showed that we were capable of winning and going all the way. Today, I would not say that the pressure is going up, but we are clearly getting into the business end of it, we will have to understand the risk management which is so very important on this circuit where you quickly take a penalty or come into contact with a competitor, knowing that the boats are sailing a meter apart at 40 to 53 knots.
“I have dreamed of the America’s Cup
since I was a kid”
► You have also been appointed coach of the French challenge Orient Express Team, what are your priorities at the moment?
First up is to structure the team. With Bruno (Dubois), sports director, Quentin (skipper) and Franck (Cammas, performance manager), we are thinking about how to grow the group, especially on very specific profiles, such as grinders, and taking into account the helm options, between one or two helms. There are also a lot of processes to put in place upstream, because the No. 1 objective, when we will receive our AC40 next summer, will be to optimize, not the hours, but every minute that we will have on the water. Finally, there is a lot of work to develop simulator tools along with Benjamin Muyl (chief designer) and his team, in collaboration with Franck and the sailors, we will get into the core of this in the coming weeks.
► You have been to two America’s Cups, in 2003 and 2007, the second one with both Stéphane Kandler and Bruno Dubois, how do you feel about this French challenge?
We don’t just want to be at the America’s Cup, we also want to perform, which is extremely ambitious when you see the level of the competition, especially in a development class. This project should have started eight or ten months earlier (see our article), I had more or less given up on it last Autumn but maybe it’s a blessing in disguise in the sense that this clearly now requires us to be even more focused and down to earth. Stéphane and Bruno have managed to have a very strong agreement with Team New Zealand on the design package, we must do everything to be operational the minute we get the boats. And that is a bit of what we managed to do with the F50 on SailGP. I therefore have high hopes that we will be competitive, we are certainly not on time, but we will take full advantage of our luck by clearly identifying the major performance gains to be activated so we can catch up quickly.
► SailGP, America’s Cup, is there still room for Thomas Coville’s Sodebo team, who you have been working for several seasons?
I’ve dreamed of the America’s Cup since I was a kid. I was lucky enough to start match-racing with people like Marc Bouët and Luc Pillot, who for me were Cup guys. I sailed the Cup two times as genoa trimmer, it was fabulous, today, I love offshore and all the work we do with Sodebo, but it’s clear that until the Cup is over, I’ll having to put this collaboration on hold.
Photo: Bob Martin