Johan Salén, the co-owner with Richard Brisius of The Ocean Race, popped into Lorient this week. The Breton port has been chosen as the start location for The Ocean Race Europe. It gave Tip & Shaft an opportunity to talk to him about the maiden edition of the race around Europe, which is due to start on 30th May, but also about The Ocean Race 2022-2023.
Why did you choose Lorient as the start location for The Ocean Race Europe and was it the only candidate?
We had some strong feedback from several towns in France and in other countries. The problem was that the discussions took a lot of time because of the COVID crisis and that used up a lot of our energy setting up this race. In France, we had several options – we had talks with La Rochelle, Brest and Douarnenez – but the offer from Lorient seemed to be the most interesting. Firstly, because there is already a solid team that is highly motivated. After that, for the teams, it was the best option, as many have set up there and as there is a lot of work to do on the boats that took part in the Vendée Globe, that means they can save a week to ten days.
What will the programme be in Lorient?
The start of the first leg is scheduled for Sunday 30th May with a coastal race probably taking place the day before, which is likely to be a race around the island of Groix. We don’t yet know what we will be able to organise ashore and have to remain flexible, but we want to organise a major sporting event which will really interest the media.
The first leg will be to Cascais, with the finish in Genoa. What about the rest of the course? You were thinking about a project involving the Giraglia Race in the final leg…
We still have to put the final details in place in the Mediterranean. We have an option in Spain and another in the South of France. We’ll decide by the end of next week if we will do Spain or France or both, which would mean four legs instead of three. As for the Giraglia, the idea was indeed to organise the final leg during the race between Saint-Tropez and Genoa and that is still the plan, but there are rumours going around that it could be cancelled, so consequently we are working at the same time on Plan B.
“This is just the start of a great story”
What is the budget for the race and how is it divided up?
It’s hard to say, as we already have a team in place that is looking after The Ocean Race, so the means were already in place there. But if we had to start out from scratch, the budget would be around 2.5 million euros. Having said that, for us, it is clearly an investment for the future, especially concerning the media and tracking, because this is an event that we want to see become a permanent fixture and develop to offer a more ambitious project in four years from now. I think this is just the start of a great story. So, this is a test version, in which the towns are offering us services; the cash investment is low, but we want to develop that in the future.
What can you tell us about the line-up in VO65s and in Imocas?
Concerning the VO65s, as we have many teams from the North of Europe, we will be doing a sort of promotional prologue starting in Lithuania, visiting Poland and Denmark before finishing in The Hague in Holland. After that, the boats will be delivered to Lorient for the start. Today looking at the VO65s in Europe, five will be taking part – Mirpuri, AkzoNobel, Brunel, the Poles and Austrians – and there may be one more, also based in Europe, and the Mexican VO65. As for the Imoca fleet, we are hoping for between eight and ten entrants (*).
“Two or three French teams on The Ocean Race “
Now let’s talk about The Ocean Race: the next edition, which will be also be the first of the new editions moving into a quadrennial cycle, going into a timing clash with the Route du Rhum, a major Imoca race on the calendar, isn’t this competition likely to deprive you of of participants?
Obviously a little. It is evident that, traditionally, the Route du Rhum is an important race for French sponsors. Even if, for the Imoca class, since there are more than 100 boats and the Ultimes finish a week before, it doesn’t have the same impact like that of the Vendée Globe. For us, the goal is that The Ocean Race is as international as possible. In the scenario that we imagine today, we see two or three French teams supported by internationally oriented sponsors.
Can you give us more of an update on the look of this next edition, the 2022-2023 The Ocean Race?
In the VO65, all current boat owners have the ambition to race around the world, they are working on it, but they are not all funded, many decisions are dragging on at the moment because of the Covid. So there are bound to be one or two that are not going to be successful getting enough funding, I think it’s realistic to say that we will have around six boats for The Ocean Race. In the Imoca, we now have four to six very likely projects, but not all are signed, there are no French so far. And beyond that, there are some ten and fifteen possible, it’s a little hard to say today, at 18 months from the start how many will manage to make it to the start. But overall, although the last twelve months have been difficult, the trend is a little more positive than last year.
Can you tell us more about the nationality of the “very likely projects”, in addition to 11th Hour Racing?
It’s pretty confidential, but what I can say is that a Spanish team from previous campaigns is one of them there still remains a few final details to be finalized, but they are in very good shape way. After that, there is a lot of activity in Italy since we have announced Genoa as arrival city, there is also our German friend (Boris Herrmann) and also significant advances in China.
(*) To date, 11th Hour Racing and Corum have officially announced their participation
Photo: Pierre Bouras / LinkedOut