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The Azimut Challenge, the final battle before the Vendée Globe

Départ du Défi Azimut 2015
© Yvan Zedda / Défi Azimut

As this is a Vendée Globe year, the line up for the 2016 Azimut Challenge is an impressive one. It brings together ten sailors, who have taken part in the Vendée Globe at least once before and six rookies taking part for the first time in the solo round the world race. For them all, this is a dress rehearsal. “This 2016 race is a bit like a prologue for the Vendée Globe, a practice run before the start with lots of manoeuvres by night. It’s a chance to clock up some more miles racing, which is something we can’t miss out on,” declared Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII).

For this sixth edition of the Azimut Challenge, we should see five of the six sailors, who will be competing in the Vendée Globe aboard the latest generation of VPLP-Verdier designs fitted with foils: Armel Le Cléac’h, but also Jean- Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac), Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild), Morgan Lagravière (Safran) and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss). Only the Dutch sailor, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) is missing. Another foiler is however present this weekend in Lorient – Jérémie Beyou’s Maître CoQ, which is the only older generation IMOCA to be fitted with foils.

© Yvan Zedda / Défi AzimutThe three top boats with straight daggerboards (Vincent Riou’s PRB, Paul Meilhat’s SMA and Yann Eliès’s Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) are also attending. The other boats registered are skippered by Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys), Bertrand de Broc (MACSF), Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée), Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy), Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives-Cœur), Alan Roura (La Fabrique) and finally, Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord pour le Projet Imagine), who sums up the general sentiment. “We are going to be able to see how we’re doing. At the same time, we won’t be going crazy out on the water. We need to pay attention to our boats and not take too many risks.” It is true that it would be a pity to run the risk of adding to the job list by breaking anything or having an incident. With just a few weeks to go to the start of the Vendée Globe. “The Azimut Challenge is a great exercise,” Paul Meilhat explained. “Firstly, because there will be sixteen on the starting line. And then, because it is the final opportunity to do anything with the boat before the start of the Vendée Globe. And finally because there will consequently be a little pressure on us. With a lot of people, guests and journalists. That will allow us to get used to that sort of atmosphere.”

24 hours of solo racing and then a crewed race around Groix

The Azimut Challenge will begin on Friday at 5 p.m. with the Azimut 24-Hour race, with a course drawn up by Jacques Caraës, the Vendée Globe Race Director, who is also in charge of the event in Lorient this weekend. The event should begin with light airs, before the arrival of a front on Saturday with 20 knots of wind expected. The competitors will therefore experience a range of weather conditions over the course.

© Yvan Zedda / Défi Azimut“Looking at the forecasts, and to prevent the racers from sailing in amongst the coastal traffic, I’ve gone for a course further out to sea with a  triangular course to the WSW of the isle of Groix,” explained Jacques Caraës. “The fleet will head westwards on a long reaching tack at 90° to the wind. After that, there will be some tacking upwind until they get to the latitude of Les Sables d’Olonne, before they head back to Groix sailing downwind, which will probably require them to gybe.” While the race course may be modified, it should allow the skippers to see how they do over a distance of 240 miles.

The competitors are expected back ashore on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, they will take part in the AZIMUT-IMOCA60 time trial, a race around Groix with a crew aboard. Each skipper will take advantage to take on board members of their team as well as partners. If conditions allow, they will attempt to smash the record set last year by Vincent Riou and his crewmen on PRB, who finished in 1 hour, 8 minutes and 10 seconds.

The competitors registered for the 2016 Azimut Challenge

Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys)
Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ)
Bertrand de Broc (MACSF)
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée)
Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy)
Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac)
Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir)
Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild)
Morgan Lagravière (Safran)
Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives-Cœur)
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII)
Paul Meilhat (SMA)
Vincent Riou (PRB)
Alan Roura (La Fabrique)
Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord pour le Projet Imagine)
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss)

The programme for the 2016 Azimut Challenge

Friday 23rd September
1400hrs: Pre-race Briefing (auditorium at the Cité de la Voile)
1700hrs: Ready for the Race Committee to start the AZIMUT–IMOCA60
24 Hour race

Saturday 24th September
At around 1600-1700hrs: The boats return to the pontoons at Lorient La Base

Sunday 25th September 2016
1000hrs: Boats leave the harbour
1130hrs: Opening of the RUN course
1300hrs: Boats ready for the Race Committee to start the AZIMUT-IMOCA60 time trial around Groix

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