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The Ocean Race becomes the Sailors' Race

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 12 May 2019 15:32 PDT 13 May 2019
The Ocean Race is stepping up to new levels for fans - with two classes, a new course, and media © Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race

The Ocean Race is set to expand with a combined fleet that could see up to double the number of boats on the start line in Alicante in 2021, compared to the last few editions of the event.

That best-case scenario would see five to eight boats in each of the VO65 and IMOCA60 class and was provided in a wide-ranging interview with Sail-World by Richard Mason, Executive Director of The Ocean Race.

There are other changes in the wind including a new course, reduced stopovers, a bigger push on sustainability, significant involvement from former naming sponsor Volvo, and a continuation of the highly awarded media program from the 2017-18 edition of the Race.

Otherwise, it is business as usual for The Ocean Race, formerly the Volvo Ocean Race, but now owned by Atlant Ocean Racing - an event company managed by Richard Brisius, Johan Salen and Jan Litborn. All from Sweden.

The 2021/22 edition of the round the world race will be the eighth that Brisius and Salen have been involved either as sailors or team managers. Their last team was the all women Team SCA, said to be the best funded in the 2014/15 VOR. In the 2017/18 event, they were both made co-Presidents of the Race before it was announced that their company, Atlant OR, would be taking ownership and management of the Race. The third partner, Jan Litborn has been a founder of the numerous campaigns run by Atlant Ocean Racing, enjoying two race wins along the way.

(For an earlier story with Johan Salen outlining the transition of the Race from Volvo to Atlant OR click here)

Richard Mason, now Executive Director of The Ocean Race, was Shore Manager for Team SCA and sailed in four consecutive races from 2001-2012.

"The key thing is that we have launched the new brand and name and developed our partnership with IMOCA," he says.

The Volvo Ocean Race becomes The Ocean Race, or in acronyms, the VOR becomes the TOR.

"Volvo is no longer in the name which can be seen as a big benefit when we go out and talk to partners and cities. We are unbranded now as a name. We are a 'white label' in commercial terms which gives us a strategic advantage."

Mason is quick to explain that Volvo's 18-year involvement with the round world race is not finished, rather it will continue in a different role from that of owner. "Volvo will remain with us as a major part of the ongoing Race. Volvo is planning for significant activation which, as has always been the case, will be groundbreaking in its delivery."

After the conclusion of the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race, there was some conjecture as to whether Volvo would stay involved, and if so whether it would be just Volvo Cars, who were said to have got a lot more visibility from the Race, and whether Volvo Group (Heavy Vehicles and Manufacturing) would continue.

"Cars are extremely happy with the race going forward," Mason explains. "Cars originally bought into the Race because they wanted to change their brand image to a more lively and enduring brand. Over the past 20 years, they have done that very successfully.

"Now one of the key objectives is to move to be one of the most sustainable brands in the world. Because of the unique sustainability programme, we are running as a sports event Volvo is very excited and building a lot of activation around that."

Volvo Cars and Group have shifted from being the naming sponsor to that of a Principal Partner. "They are one of the premier partners for the race," Mason explains.

"We have already announced others - 11th Hour Racing who is also the founding partner of our sustainability programme. And pure water provider, Bluewater are returning at the Official Partner level."

And Mason says a couple more coming.

"That is the beauty of moving Volvo out of the name of the race - we can have higher level partnerships with a feeling between the partners that they are on more of a level playing field," he explains.

"Where before it was Volvo Ocean Race with 11th Hour Racing where now it is The Ocean Race/11th Hour Racing."

Mason says the absence of a naming sponsor in the race title is also making for easier discussions when talking with Host Cities. "There can be some resistance to giving support from public funding to events which have corporate names. Having a neutral name is a stronger position for us".

Similarly with teams: "At times companies would question why they should support a boat competing in a race which has a rival company as a naming rights sponsor?" he asks.

While outwardly there have been significant changes as the VOR becomes the TOR, behind the scenes, Mason says they have retained many of the key players from the previous Race on the event and sponsor side. "Continuity is everything," he says.

He says that in many ways the Race will revert to an earlier era. "The core or backbone of the race is going to be more a step back into what the race used to be rather than what it had become."

"We will see a lot of tradition being pulled through and amplified in the future."

Aim to be Fossil Fuel free by 2024

The Ocean Race, in keeping with its self-sustainability goal, has tasked itself with reducing the reliance of competitors on fossil fuels for power generation.

"There is a long term goal that by the 2024/25 Vendee Globe the IMOCA boats will be completely sustainable - there will be no combustion engines needed on board," says Mason. We want to be a big part of leading that technological development and hope that we can get close to this goal in the 2021 edition of The Ocean Race.

In the 2016 Vendee Globe Race, New Zealand entrant Conrad Colman became the first competitor in the history of the Race to complete the course without using any fossil fuel and had an electric motor fitted as an auxiliary.

"Of course, there is a safety aspect to it. We may go to the system where there is still an engine with just 50 litres of fuel, but it is all locked off. You can fire it up if you have a MOB situation and there is enough power to get someone back.

"All energy systems will be solar and hydro-generation. We have got several science projects going on at the moment to see what can be done over the next year and a half - without inflicting a lot of costs on the teams. There is a lot that has happened in battery technology. There are hydrogen cells, the hydro-generators and solar panels.

"The advantage is that they reduce weight in the boat. It is a performance gain across the board if we become more efficient. If we make the computers use less power, then that means the required battery capacity is coming down, and much less weight is being carried. Even now the Vendee guys are only carrying about 65 litres for the whole Race, and are coming in with spare fuel."

"It's a huge opportunity for us. We are even talking to some companies who are looking to develop more sustainable shipping and are looking to us to take the lead."

In Part 2 of this series we will look at the two classes and how they will shape the next and future races. In Part 3 the strategy with the Course and Stopovers will be revealed.

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