The 50th Solitaire Urgo-Le Figaro finished last Wednesday after a fourth and final leg won by Eric Péron, which confirmed Yoann Richomme’s overall first place. With hardly any time to get over this fourth leg, which was just as exhausting as the previous ones, a few skippers, who race in both the Figaro and IMOCA circuits looked back at this 2019 edition in which they took part. You really have to be an expert in Figaro racing to come out on top in the Solitaire, and for the IMOCA skippers returning to the Figaro circuit, it was not the easiest of tasks.
What are the similarities and differences when racing on the little boat (a Figaro) in comparison to on a big one (an IMOCA 60)? Do you really have to go through the Figaro circuit to win in major IMOCA races? Is it very hard to go back to a Figaro after racing on an IMOCA? We put these questions to Yoann Richomme (1st), Michel Desjoyeaux (12th), Yann Eliès (16th), Jérémie Beyou (20th) and Thomas Ruyant (38th)
And in an Irish context, solo sailors Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan who both finished the Figaro with mixed results and who have both expressed Vendee Globe ambitions, the question now will be: what next?
With a few months left to go to the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre and just over a year to the Vendée Globe, and with most of the new IMOCAs not yet in the water, the 50th Solitaire du Figaro offered some IMOCA skippers an opportunity to see how they measured up against Figaro racers. It was a way to measure their physical condition and their endurance levels.
The overall winner of the 2019 Solitaire, Yoann Richomme (HelloWork-Groupe - Groupe Télégramme) could not hide his pleasure and praised the class and his new Figaro 3: “I really enjoyed myself with this new boat, thanks to which the class is going to become very important. In terms of the standard, nothing compares to the Figaro... It teaches you all about commitment and is a great school to learn more and make progress. Moving up to an IMOCA is quite logical in my opinion and I still hope to be there at the start of the Vendée Globe next year." The winner of the last Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in Class40 will now continue to train on an IMOCA with Damien Seguin alongside whom he will take part in the Rolex Fastnet Race in a month from now before competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre in the autumn.
For Thomas Ruyant (Advens - La Fondation de la Mer): “The Figaro is the Olympics of ocean racing. Performing well on a Figaro is proof of your talent and that talent can be applied on an IMOCA..., but for me it is not compulsory to go via a Figaro. Many of the big names like Jean-Pierre Dick, Bernard Stamm and Alex Thomson to mention just a few, did not need to compete in the Figaro circuit to get where they are today. Just doing the Figaro is not enough either. You need to have done other stuff such as the Mini or Class40, as these are just as important if you want to prepare for a move to IMOCA racing.”
Figaro racing to perform well on an IMOCA
Twice winner of the event (2009 and 2014), Jérémie Beyou (Charal) says openly and loudly: “You really have to be up for it. You don’t compete at such a high level if you are not motivated. The Solitaire is a reference in terms of preparation. Personally, it takes me two or three years to find the pace again and sail like a true Figaro racer. I won the Solitaire on two occasions, but it took me four years to get my second win. The 2019 race is no different. It really was an exercise for experts. You just have to look at the list of the first ten places. To win you have to be 100% a Figaro racer.” After a fortnight’s holiday, the skipper of Charal will be back out there training double-handed with Christopher Pratt, with whom he will line up at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre.
For Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird), three times winner of the event (1992, 1998, 2007), who was very pleased with his 12th place this year, “It doesn’t make any sense racing an IMOCA, if you haven’t raced a Figaro, as the biggest group of top class racers competes. Gaining experience of Figaro racing is something you simply have to do if you want to perform well in the Vendée Globe. Having said that, you have to understand there is a difference when you move to an IMOCA, as she is a much bigger boat, which is heavier and more powerful, so preparing is a highly technical affair.” Yann Eliès (StMichel) shares this opinion, declaring, “Going through the Figaro circuit is practically compulsory if you want to win in the IMOCA circuit. The Figaro is a condensed version of what you experience on an IMOCA, especially with the new boat. Racing in the Figaro class complements IMOCA racing, as you don’t get to spend enough time out on the water on an IMOCA and the Figaro enables you to maintain your level and continue to make progress. This year’s race was complicated for me. I thought I would end up much higher in the overall rankings. I wasn’t fresh enough for the race, and every leg was difficult. I may return next year, but for the moment, I’m busy looking for a partner for The Ocean Race, which really attracts me, and for the 2024 Vendée Globe."
Returning means accepting the danger
“Sometimes it can be good to start to question yourself and put yourself in danger in the Figaro circuit,” explains Yann Eliès, “ as the exercise is very tricky and the standard very high. This year only one of us handed in the perfect exam paper…" He was thinking of Yoann Richomme, who paid homage to all the IMOCA skippers, who return to the Figaro circuit. “I imagine it must be very hard for Yann, Jérémie, Armel and Mich’ to return to the Figaro circuit, where everyone can come a cropper very easily. You need to be strong psychologically to know how to deal with that.”