The Imoca president, Antoine Mermod, has helped to bring the class together with The Ocean Race (formerly Volvo Ocean Race) whose forthcoming edition in 2021-2022 will be run on the 60-foot monohulls. He explains how the ocean racing ecosystem in Brittany can benefit from it.
How did The Ocean Race open up to the Imoca?
This rapprochement arose from a dual observation: on the one hand, the Volvo Ocean Race, a crewed round-the-world race, was finding it increasingly difficult to present an important platform, its organisers were also considering a new boat to replace the one-design VO65, on which the last two editions had been raced. On the other hand, Imoca, a class that is doing very well in France with its flagship race, the Vendée Globe, has been looking for years to open up to the international market. This was a great opportunity to bring these two worlds together, which we have managed to do.
What will be the impact on the Imoca class?
It will be considerable from a sporting point of view, because our skippers will be competing against the best foreign sailors. But also from an economic point of view: our boats may be jewels of technological, but they are extremely expensive. To justify these investments, we need to offer races that match, such as the Vendée Globe, the Route du Rhum and the Transat Jacques Vabre. The fact that The Ocean Race is now being sailed in the Imoca class will provide an additional opportunity to use our boats, and thus make the most of the investments, on an iconic round-the-world trip.
What will be the consequences for the ecosystem of offshore racing in Brittany?
They can only be positive: new markets, particularly for export, will be opened up for all the companies that have invested since the beginning to support the development of offshore racing in Brittany. The whole ecosystem will be pulled upwards and this rapprochement is expected to generate even more jobs. We are already seeing foreign teams set up in Brittany, such as the Americans of 11th Hour Racing, who have moved closer to MerConcept in Port-la-Forêt. I think others will follow.
In what areas should companies working in the offshore world make progress to attract these new markets?
The know-how is already incredible and the general level of what we can offer in South Brittany is much higher than anything else in the world. I can tell you that the foreign teams that came to Lorient this year for the Azimut Challenge had never seen the likes before! They were impressed both by the number of offshore racing teams at the Lorient-La Base site and by the number of manufacturers in the sector. This ecosystem and its level of excellence are unique in the world. Now, we need to welcome foreign teams arriving in Imoca…
The first essential thing is to speak English. This is still an issue for some companies, although there has been a significant improvement in recent years. Then, we also need to have the infrastructure to welcome everyone. Finally, we must take advantage of the coverage received by our races and of the agreement with The Ocean Race to continue to promote our know-how. In this sense, I believe it is important that Eurolarge Innovation communicates around the sector as a whole, as it is a tool for promoting all our know-how.
The deadline for the next The Ocean Race will be here soon…
Time is running out, indeed, as departure is in 2 years. For teams wishing to build a new boat, construction needs to start now. This means that all stakeholders in the manufacturing chain must be ready now.
Inset 1: Antoine Mermod Brief Bio.
Antoine Mermod, 42, was elected president of the Imoca class in April 2007 and was previously team manager for the No Way Back team of the Dutchman Pieter Heerema, 17th in the last Vendée Globe. A trained engineer, having worked with the Sergio Tachini and Gitana teams, he worked on the Energy Team France challenge project, but also as technical director for Fnob, the company that organised the Barcelona World Race.
Inset 2: Johan Salén: “A dozen Imoca on The Ocean Race starting line”
Present at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre, the CEO of The Ocean Race takes stock two years before the start in Alicante. “We are quite confident and expect to have around ten Imoca on the starting line, including 3 to 4 new boats, in addition to the VO65s which will line up with young crews. As for the stopovers, we should be able to announce the last towns within a few weeks. Our ambition is to return to Asia and organize a prologue starting from France.”