After their magnificent victory in last year's Route du Rhum between Saint-Malo and Pointe à Pitre, the Gitana Team's Norman skipper and Gitana 11 are back on the ocean waves again. Having benefited from a winter makeover, Gitana 11 have taken the race starting by the side of three other 60-foot multihulls: Banque Populaire IV, Groupama 2 and Sopra Group, skippered respectively by Pascal Bidégorry, who finished 2nd in the Route du Rhum, Franck Cammas and Antoine Koch, the new face in the event.
So a new season for the Formula 1s of the sea is about to get underway with the AS Lease Challenge, an event created in February at the combined instigation of the 60-foot multihulls' owners and skippers. The opening race on the ORMA (Ocean Racing Multihull Association) calendar will unfold in two stages: an offshore section between Lorient, la Coruna, Fastnet Rock and Lorient, followed by an inshore part with coastal courses alongside the beaches of the Lorient region.
The offshore race will see the four competitors and their 5-man crews follow a triangular 1,400-mile course between Lorient, La Coruna and Fastnet Rock. The race starting foreseen on Sunday 13th May has been deferred for Monday evening for meteo's reasons. Innovatively, the organisers have planned the finish time to allow as many spectators as possible to witness the final sprint... which should take place on Thursday 17 May between 3pm and 5pm hours.
The inshore race, meanwhile, will be a Multihull Trophy, on the next 19th and 20th May, during the course of which two to three rounds will be held each day. It will serve as an ideal opportunity for the four competing crews to showcase the entertaining spectacle invariably offered by the 60-foot multihulls.
With a matter of hours to go before the start, Lionel Lemonchois is itching to once again test himself against three select competitors on a course that is somewhat unusual for this type of boat. “My state of mind going into this new race is the same as always; I want to win it. The Route du Rhum is in the past now and a new chapter has begun. And while Groupama 2 and Banque Populaire IV remain formidable adversaries with a possible speed advantage over Gitana 11, nothing is impossible provided the self-belief is there. What better proof could there be of this than the Route du Rhum? We have one of the best crews and the boat is coming on nicely, as last week's training sessions showed. The weather looks like being fairly unpredictable, with multiple wind changes that will have to be handled as well as possible. It's up to us to outperform the others...”.
Loïck Peyron, the Gitana Team's General Manager, sums up the modifications which Lionel Lemonchois had requested on Gitana 11, and also gives us his thoughts on this new 60-foot multihull season: “after her victorious return from Guadeloupe, Gitana 11 went into the boatyard for her regular winter makeover. The entire rigging and hydraulic systems, along with a host of minor points, were reviewed under the supervision of the boat captain, William Fabulet. We also changed the helm transmission systems between the helming stations and the floater rudders in order to make the helm smoother and more sensitive by eliminating the friction and play. The main rudder and its support were modified for the same reasons. The foils (curved sections in the middle of each of the two floaters, ed's note) were x-rayed to detect any alterations in their internal structures resulting from the demands made on them during the Route du Rhum. Lastly, at Lionel's request, we installed a hydraulic jack on the solent stay (the cable to the fore, ed's note) permitting the fore mast to be adjusted aftwards in the breeze and inversely in light air. And of course, the whole vessel has received a nice coat of paint to make her beautiful again.
Multihulls have been part of my life for over 27 years. I've had seasons on 4 different boats and transats with over thirty starters, ranging from giants with 2 or 3 floats to dragonflies weighing several tons. We're clearly going through a period of transition and it's time to stand up and be counted and demonstrate our desire to bring together the best performers and real enthusiasts for these fascinating boats that are envied by sailors everywhere. Despite the efforts of Benjamin de Rothschild to support the class last year, it stands out for quality rather than quantity this year. But at lease the very best are involved, brought together for a programme in which the main target will be November's race between Le Havre and Salvador de Bahia. The AS Lease Challenge will be a chance for Gitana 11'screw to show the boat's potential for ocean racing. The Fastnet race in August, steeped in history and excitement, will provide an opportunity for a few other Orma trimarans to join us, a chance to respond to the clear need to show people outside France just what these machines can do. This 2007 season should be notable for entertainment and high standards of competition, as it's not the size of the bottle that counts, but rather the level of intoxication produced by the speed and the capacity of these splendid ocean-going adventures to fuel dreams.”
Crew of Gitana 11 – AS Lease Challenge offshore race :
Lionel Lemonchois – Skipper
Loïck Peyron – Helmsman
Yann Guichard – Tactician/helmsman
Jean Baptiste Levaillant – Trimmer
Ronan Legoff – Trimmer
François Denis – Bowman