by Al Skinner
Dongfeng are making an impact on the business scene with their recently announced 1.1bn investment in Peugeot but they are also making a splash in the sailing world with their VO65, Dongfeng Race Team, being officially and ceremoniously christened today in Sanya, China.
VO65 ’Dongfeng’ Official Launch Ceremony Dongfeng Race Team - Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15
Ha ha – a Chinese entry in the Volvo Ocean Race. I know what many will be thinking – either not really Chinese or ‘at least we know who will be last’. Well, think again. This is not a case of 'westerners running in to grab sponsorship money from China and running away' nor is it a case of just making up the numbers.
The Team Director, Bruno Dubois has gone on record as saying 'there is no place for second. I want to win, and the sponsor wants to win.' The fact that we are now in a One Design world with the VOR means it is down to the sailors and to have a young and/or offshore inexperienced element to a team is not new or unusual. Dolphin and Youth had a 22 year old skipper in Matt Humphries and even he would admit that wasn’t yesterday. ABN Amro 2 and Ericsson 3 were also largely young and untried or untested and it is fair to say that the bar at Dongfeng Race Team will be already raised a little bit higher than that, come the start in October off Alicante.
Dongfeng training in Sanya, skipper Charles Caudrelier at the helm
Having spent a few days finding her sea legs in Hong Kong, the Dongfeng VO65 sailed to Sanya where it will spend a few weeks with crews in training, and then heads back to Europe via Auckland and the Southern Ocean perhaps giving the young Chinese sailors an experience edge over the other ‘under 30’ sailors sailing with other teams.
But what ‘young Chinese sailors’? Well, they are now down to 12 hopefuls, many former National Team members and at least one Olympian. While they admit to having much to learn, they do all satisfy the ‘under 30’ requirement and are well used to keeping a twitchy sail-boat heading fast in the right direction, a distinct advantage given the feedback from the Scandinavian ladies about what is needed to keep these steeds on the boil.
Add to that doing, what, in effect, is the second half of the race in advance, should help to fill in those gaps of what to expect and how to handle the big seas south of the Great Capes. Now stir into the mix the highly experienced multi world circumnavigators that Bruno Dubois has been able to recruit for the team means that to write off Dongfeng Race team, would be a foolhardy thing to do, and if there was a betting shop in Shanghai I would be rushing off with a few hundred yuan to get some money down right now.
So just who are they? The experienced westerners that are joining the team? At the launching and christening ceremony today the skipper was named as Charles Caudrelier, part of Groupama’s winning team from the last lap of the planet, and no stranger to having to make race winning. Caudrelier won the Solitaire du Figaro in 2004 and the Transat Jaque Vabre (TJV) with Marc Guillemot in 2009 and his victories are just a small part of his yachting curriculum vitae. More details of other crew to follow once we know them.
On the face of it this campaign has at least got legs. There will be challenges for sure (as with every new team), but the potential of the team on the water to drive their boat hard and on to the podium should not be underestimated. They are not just here to make up the numbers, you can be sure of that.