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Normandy Channel Race: The great battle of Class 40s

by Denis van den Brink 17 May 2018 05:04 PDT 24 May - 3 June 2018
Normandy Channel Race 2017 © Jean-Marie Liot

The 40-foot (12.18m) monohull class is experiencing an historic upturn in 2018. Indeed, it is now enjoying true technical and sporting coherence that is unrivalled among the Open categories of offshore race boats.

Due to set sail from Caen on 24 May, the ninth edition of the Normandy Channel Race, an event reserved exclusively for this Class, will showcase the appeal of this fleet, which today attracts the big names in offshore sailing.

Judge for yourselves: Vincent Riou, winner of the Vendée Globe, Nicolas Troussel and Yoann Richomme, winners of the Solitaire du Figaro, Adrien Hardy, the recent winner of the Transat AG2R, Jean Luc Nélias, winner of the Volvo Ocean Race among others and Julien Pulvé winner of the Mini Transat... will all be in Caen alongside the event's historic star players, Halvard Mabire, Marc Lepesqueux, Jean Galfione, Louis Duc and Phil Sharp.

This year's vintage features an exceptional line-up of 30 boats, from which even the most well-informed observers are struggling to hint at a possible podium. True to its spirit and protected by a sufficiently strict class measurement that means that the words 'victory' and 'budget' are not systematically intertwined, the Class40 is effectively making its boats competitive for longer, which translates as extremely open and ambitious line-ups for races like the Normandy Channel Race.

For five days, the top sailors whose backgrounds embrace all manner of offshore racing families, from the Mini 6.50 right through to the Ultimes, will have to bring their A game in the English Channel and the Irish Sea if they are to stand a chance of securing victory in the class' great classic.

Who could put paid to the overseas hegemony?

Already two editions have gone by with no French crew dominating play in the Normandy Channel Race. Nicolas Troussel, second last year, and the last Frenchie to win the event in 2015, might be someone the more courageous onlookers would risk gambling on. Teamed up with the prodigy of the Mini Class, Ian Lipinski, he boasts all the necessary criteria of a potential victor at the helm of his brand new Mach 40 "Corum".

However, fortunately for the great Norman classic, there are a plethora of other sailors capable of posting stellar performances in this 1,000-mile close-contact, action-packed race. Aymeric Chappellier (Aïna Enfance et Avenir) has been something of an ogre since the start of the season thanks to the impressive power of his Mach40 on seemingly every point of sail. By pairing up with the Norman sailor Fabien Delahaye, a familiar face at the event, he has significantly boosted his chances and, like many others, is one of the hot favourites.

Indeed, there are a good ten or so French and overseas crews who are capable of taking the win. In no particular order, these include the reigning champion, Briton Phil Sharp and his accomplice for the race Julien Pulvé, who is completely in control of another Mach 40, Imerys, which is fully optimised. A mainstay of the Class40, Norman sailor Louis Duc is equipped with a boat that matches both his talent and his appetite for victory. He'll be sailing with Gwen Riou aboard Carac and he certainly won't be racing just to make up the numbers. It's the same scenario aboard Serenis Consulting skippered by Jean Galfione. The Olympic pole vault champion in Atlanta has really established himself as a formidable sailor over the years and he'll be approaching his eighth participation in the Norman classic in the best possible conditions.

Another duo to watch with a view to a podium finish is Maxime Sorel and Antoine Carpentier, winners of the last Transat Jacques Vabre. Third on two occasions in the past two years, the men on V and B are keen to graduate to the top spot this year.

Meantime Loïc Féquet has deserted the Multi50 Class to the benefit of the Class40. He has set his heart on one of the series' iconic yachts, the flamboyant Botin design Talés II, winner of the NCR in 2016, as well as the Quebec-Saint Malo and the Transat Jacques Vabre and hence a serious contender!

Another pairing with an impressive profile is that of Guillaume Le Brec (Oman Sail), a Mini sailor who can turn his hand to absolutely anything, associated with a big name from offshore racing, winner of the Vendée Globe Vincent Riou. Like the duo Sébastien Marsset - Jean Luc Nélias (Campings Tohapi), they boast the explosive cocktail of talent, experience and freshness to triumph in Caen.

Luke Berry and Arthur Le Vaillant are rising stars in French sailing. At the helm of a gleaming new Mach 40 Groupe Lamotte, they must get a mention on this long list of bankable names in this race.

And the Normans?

Eight of Normandy's male and female sailors will attempt to remain in control on their home waters. Fabien Delahaye and Louis Duc (Carac) obviously have high hopes, as do the five other boats sporting William the Conqueror's leopards. Olivier Cardin and Benoit Charon (Région Normandie), Nicolas Jossier and Adrien Hardy (ManOrga), with mixing pairings Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron (Campagne de France), Claire Pruvot and Alois Kerduel (Leclerc Drive), as well as Marc Lepesqueux and Spanish sailor Pilar Pasanau (Sensation Class40), all of whom are familiar with the territory and have both experience and a desire to excel.

A match within the match, the inter-Norman rivalry is a major attraction of this exceptional 2018 opus of the Normandy Channel Race.

Pros, amateurs, internationalism and a mixing of the sexes

With six nationalities represented, the Normandy Channel Race has real appeal for racers from the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Belgium and even Japan. The requisite race, created and organised by Manfred Ramspacher, remains a playing field that is cherished by amateur crews keen to slug it out with the professional sailors. In this way, there will be around ten teams of enlightened enthusiasts battling to keep pace with the professional offshore sailors amidst the race's numerous hazards. Equally, the female contingent will also be well-represented with Briton Miranda Merron (Campagne de France), Italian Carolina Vojtisek (Yoda) and Spaniard Pilar Pasanau (Sensation Class40) on the start line on 24 May.

You can find all the skippers' files on the race website here.

From Thursday 24 May, participate in the Normandy Channel Race virtually here.

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