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Volvo Ocean Race: Under new management - Part 1

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 7 Jun 2018 20:57 PDT 8 June 2018
One of the options is to use the eight boat Volvo 65 race fleet for a third lap of the planet - but under team ownership © Konrad Frost / Volvo Ocean Race

Under a new management team, the next Volvo Ocean Race will take one step back and several forward.

At the end of May it was announced that a new team of Richard Brisius, Johan Salen and Jan Litborn were taking over the ownership and management of the 45-year-old fully crewed round the world race.

Brisius has a dual role. He is also CEO of the company owned by Sweden’s National Olympic Committee, that is bidding to host the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2026. Salen will take the lead role in both VOR operations and in devising a strategy for the long-term future of the race.

Volvo will stay on as a sponsor, continuing a relationship that has endured for 20 years.

The back step is that teams will be responsible for sourcing and owning their boats – breaking with the one-design VOR owned charter boat model that has been used for the last two editions of the race.

That move puts the race back to its position in the 2011/12 Volvo OR, in which six Volvo 70 yachts competed – all designed to a box rule and campaigned by the teams. Five of the VO70’s were new for the race, the sixth, Sanya was the refitted Telefonica Blue from the 2008/09 race.

Brisius and Salen have a seven edition involvement with the Volvo Ocean Race spanning 28 years.

The two started as sailors - Brisius on Gatorade (1989/90) and Brookfields(1993-94). Salen did the 1989/90 race on board The Card. Next move was as team managers for Intrum Justicia (1993-94), placing second overall, followed by their first race win managing EF Language in 1997/98. They had another second place managing Assa Abloy in 2001-02 and scored their second race win as managers with the Ericsson 4 campaign in 2008/09. In the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, Brisius and Salen managed the high profile women's Team SCA.

That's a very impressive management record across five races.

Last November Brisius and Salen were made President and co-President of the current edition of the Volvo OR, taking over the role from CEO Mark Turner who resigned suddenly in late October 2017. Their company Atlant Ocean Racing is now the new owner of the race.

The event is returning to its original concept with race organisation being separate from the sponsors. The inaugural Whitbread Round the World Race was organised by the Royal Naval Sailing Association. The next edition will be organised by a specialist event management company, rather than a yacht club.

According to Salen, the ownership change is quite amicable and should allow the race to change direction and grow, while removing the burden of race organisation from sponsors.

“Volvo is two very different companies - one is producing buses, trucks and construction vehicles, while the other cars. They have completely different management teams. The only event they have done in common is the Volvo Ocean Race”, Salen told Sail-World over the weekend. “Over the past decade, they have been slowly growing apart. They have different marketing needs and work differently with their customers.”

“They realised they would be in a much better position if they acted just as sponsors to us as event owners.”

The differentiation will see Volvo relieved of the responsibilities of race organisation. The Swedish headquartered multinational will not be working directly with teams, boats other race management matters

“They have realised that race organisation is not one of their core competencies.”

“Volvo realised that we needed a different structure for the Race going forward,” Salen adds.

Sponsorship of the premier Trans-Ocean Race will still be shared by Volvo Group and Volvo Cars with the latter being the more active partner. “There is financial support from both of them to make a good transition,’ says Salen.

Developing a new race strategy

Discussions about the future of the race have been ongoing for several years.

An ambitious plan floated in May 2017, by former CEO Mark Turner was scuttled five months later with Turner’s abrupt resignation.

He planned to run the race every two years, using a new fleet of foiling IMOCA60fters designed by Guillaume Verdier with wingsailed foiling catamarans being used for In-Port races. Turner resigned a few weeks before the start of the current race.

Turner had taken over from long-standing Volvo OR CEO, Knut Frostad who had overseen three editions of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Originally a double Olympian in the windsurfer, Frostrad hailed from a similar background to Brisius, Salen and Turner – as a race competitor first before shifting into race management after hanging up their seaboots.

There’s history between the former CEO and the new event owners. Frostad’s first Volvo Ocean Race was as a crew member on board the Brisius/Salen managed Intrum Justitia in 1993-94.

Fans can expect the coming editions of the Volvo Ocean Race to be more in the steady Scandinavian style of Frostad than the bold brush strokes of the entrepreneurial Turner.

As the new event owners, Atlant Ocean Racing still face the same issues that were addressed by Turner.

First task is to get the current race completed, and then look ahead to the plan for the next race and with a view to the edition after that. The race also celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023.

The immediate issue is that the winning of the current race is wide open with three points covering three boats. Getting sailors and teams to think and talk in the medium to long term is difficult when their real focus is scoring the most points possible in the next three weeks.

It’s a great problem to have and is a fortuitous launch pad for a re-shaped event.

Class selection not simple

“Going forward a lot of things fall naturally into place,” explains Salen thinking of the race components that slide easily into future race planning.

“The choice of boat is one of those which does not, and there are a lot of different ideas and opinions. No decisions have been taken yet. Potentially there could be two classes, but that is not certain.”

The possibility of two classes – Turner’s IMOCA60 vision - and trying to extract another race out of the Farr design Volvo 65 one design, was raised in the media release announcing the change in race ownership.

Its attraction is that the size of the race fleet will expand significantly. Plus in both fleets there is a second-hand market for the race boats. Maybe that will put the race back to it roots as being an adventure race around the world, and not be solely the domain of full on professional race teams, running a two or three year campaign program.

Surprisingly the Volvo 65 one-design fleet is still very competitive - exemplified by team AkzoNobel setting a new Volvo 24 hour distance record of 602nm a couple of weeks ago.

The new mark was just 25nm of the outright monohull record set by the supermaxi Comanche in 2015. Salen notes that the Volvo 65 fleet lends itself to short races around a European circuit, or a Pacific Rim circuit – taking in destinations not visited by the 45000nm epic.

The IMOCA60 tucks in nicely with the singlehanded Vendee Globe and other high profile trans-oceanic races. The dual fleet raises the possibility of full-time ocean racing teams centred around the Volvo Ocean Race, in the way that ongoing race teams focus on the America’s Cup, or the Vendee Globe and other IMOCA60 events.

A return to Team ownership

Part of the challenge to be faced by Atlant Ocean Racing is the transitioning of the one design Volvo 65 fleet. Currently, Volvo Ocean Race own six boats, and two are owned privately by the teams.

“The organising company will own those remaining six boats until they are sold”, explains Salen.

“One of the conclusions - from Volvo Group and Cars more than us - is that you should not get involved in building and owning boats. In the last two editions generally, more has been done centrally and less and less by the teams.

“This degree of reliance on others is not necessarily very healthy.”

“I think it is more important to have stronger more self-sufficient teams in the event. We have to take a bit of a step back.”

That statement means Atlant Ocean Racing won’t be in the boat building and charter business and teams will have to revert to commissioning or acquiring their own boats, for the next Volvo Ocean Race - as was done for the first 40 years of the race’s history.

Role of Boatyard reduces

That boat ownership decision triggers another question on the future of the Boatyard, the centralised shore maintenance facility responsible for much of the boat servicing between legs. The Boatyard ensures that the Volvo owned fleet is maintained to a high standard, and stays a strict one design. One skipper quipped that the Volvo 65 was even more one -design than the Laser single hander. “On a Laser you can change the tiller extension. We can’t. We can’t even shorten a piece of rope!”

“The future role of the Boatyard is one of the issues on which we have yet to make a decision,” Salen continues.”Our feeling is that the Boatyard will still fill a function - but probably a bit downscaled from what it is now and more optional for the teams.

“There are clear areas where there should be synergies, and those should be kept. In future, race-boat maintenance will be more of a responsibility of the teams, and will not fall to Atlant or Volvo.”

“Even with the IMOCA class they have some one-design elements and there is no reason for each team to keep those one-design spares. There are definite areas where there are synergies to have some centralised maintenance and support functions,” he adds.

In Part 2, published tomorrow we will cover the options for race timing, the course, and more on the IMOCA60 option.

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