Rolex Fastnet Race - IRC form guide
While the headline grabbing boats will be romping around the race track once they set off from Cowes on Sunday, a longer battle is set to play out between the 300 boats competing for the Fastnet Challenge Cup, winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race under IRC rating.
IRC rating aims to take the boat out of the competitive equation and instead reward the best crew, but weather also plays a part. A strong start to the race and a light finish will typically benefit bigger faster boats, while conversely a light beginning and strong finish will favour smaller slower boats. But looking at the results since the Rolex Fastnet Race was first raced under IRC in 2001, the event has been won by three 70 footers, two 50 footers and one 30ft. Given that bigger boats typically have better crews than smaller boats this would indicate that the rule administered by the RORC Rating Office in Lymington is doing its job well.
However the Rolex Fastnet Race this year does have a favourite. The Judel Vrolijk 72 Rán 2 might have an ‘amateur’ helmsman in owner Niklas Zennström, but the campaign is run with all the professionality of an America’s Cup team. And thanks to this Ran 2 has won the last two Rolex Fastnet Races under IRC and is pulling out all the stops to enter the history books in being the race’s first boat to win three times in a row (the famous pilot Jolie Brise has won three times, including the first race, they were not consecutive, while the eminent yacht designer Olin Stephens personally won three times in succession, but not on the same boat).
Rán 2’s victories to date haven’t been close run things. Two years ago she won by 3 hours 48 minutes from second placed ICAP Leopard and in 2009 by 2 hours 17 minutes from the Italian STP65 Luna Rossa. However five years old now, Rán 2 this time faces her stiffest competition yet, up against a one year old version of herself in Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente, which beat her to the Mini Maxi World title in Porto Cervo last year and which has a crew every bit as proficient as her won.
Rán 2 skipper Tim Powell comments: "Bella Mente is obviously a newer version of us. There are the VO70s racing with us which have provn to be goo IRC boats. So it is going to be incredibly tough and the big thing with the Fastnet adn with these long offshore races you always need an element of good fortune on your side in terms of the weather favouring your size of boat."
According to Powell for this race they have taken their well travelled Mini Maxi "back to how she was when she was first launched in terms of weights and keel draught. We have been sailing the boat for quite a few years now so we hope that we are pretty well optimised anyway." This has involved changing back to their old (Fastnet winning) fin.
Powell says that Ran 2 don't really have optimum conditions: "The Mini Maxis are good all-round boats. They power up quite quickly. There is no optimal conditions but it is such a big fleet you have boats that are downwind fliers or better upwind. Generally speaking, any conditions thrown at us we are normally pretty competitive in."
Also in IRC One, but something of an unknown, is Geoff Boettcher’s Reichel Pugh 51 Secret Men’s Business 3.5, having made the journey all the way from Australia to compete. Boettcher no doubt fondly remembers winning the 2010 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race in which Rán 2 finished eighth overall.
In the smaller classes French boats dominated in 2011 and are expected to do well again. According to Gery Trentesaux, who is this year campaigning the heavily chined MC34 Patton Courrier Vintage, the reason French crews perform well in the Rolex Fastnet Race is a cultural one: “We prefer offshore and coastal races because we compete in the Figaro and the Tour de France la Voile. I have raced many Figaros and there are many Figaro or Tour de France a la Voile sailors in my crew.”
While the first and second placed winners in IRC 1 are back again in Jean-Claude Nicoleau and Nicolas Loday’s Grand Soleil 43 Codiam and Laurent Gouy’s Ker 39 Inis Mor form would suggest that it is the Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens of astonishing 83-year-old Dutchman Piet Vroon that is favourite.
“If I was a betting man I’d put my money on the 72 footers, Ran/Bella Mente, but it depends on what the weather is going to do,” says Vroon, who won in 2001 with his previous Tonnerre. “If they get away then the big boats have the best chance but having said that there have been times when the smallest boat won, so that could still be the case.”
According to Vroon, who incredibly reckons he’s sailed 22 of the biennial Rolex Fastnet Races before, Tonnerre, prefers more wind, but they have also done well when its light wind too. Direct opposition to his blue hulled Dutch boat, which was the RORC’s season champion in 2010 and 2011 and is well on track to repeat this year, are the Ker 40s Edward Broadway’s Hooligan VI and Andrew Pearce’s Magnum III, or the French boats mentioned.
There is another clear favourite in IRC Two in the Gery Trentesaux and Sam Marsaudon campaigned Courrier Vintage. Paling beside Vroon’s record, Trentesaux, who famously led the French team to victory in the 2006 Commodores’ Cup, says this will be his 12th Rolex Fastnet Race, following his first in 1977 and subsequently sailing several with Piet Vroon. While overall victory has so far eluded, Trentesaux has previously won his class in 2001 and 2007.
Modestly Trentesaux doesn’t rate his team’s chances this time, stating that the Courrier Vintage’s powerful hull makes her good in strong conditions, but less so when it’s light. For IRC Two honours he rates his old boat, the First 40 La Réponse, sold to Admiral of the RORC, Andrew McIrvine, plus Michel Peretie’s A-40 Stamina III, which won the class in the St Malo race and Trustmarque Quokka 8, the Grand Soleil 43 campaigned by Peter Rutter and Philippe Falle.
The lead two in IRC Three in the last Rolex Fastnet Race, the JPK 10.10s Noel Racine’s Foggy Dew and Wasabi of Belgium’s Vincent Willemart have both lowered their rating to squeak into IRC Four this year. This leaves the Philipp Langlois-campaigned A-35 Chenapan and the Belgium JPK 10.10 Rackman (fourth and fifth respectively in 2011) or the trio of Js leading the RORC Points Championship, Nick Martin’s J/105 Diablo J, or Christopher Palmer’s J-T’Aime or Todd Wells’ Je Vante, two of the 20 J/109s taking part. A dark horse is the French JPK 10.10 Night and Day, sailed by father and son Figaro sailors, Pascal and Alexis Loisin, who despite racing doublehanded managed to claim overall honours in the RORC’s recent St Malo race.
According to Foggy Dew skipper Noel Racine, they detuned their JPK 10.10 in order to compete with another ex-Figaro sailor Philippe Vicariot and Gerard Quenot on Alkaid III in IRC Four (the three JPK 10.10s in IRC3 are all being raced doublehanded with bigger sails). While the JPK 10.10s are racing at the top of the class, Racine is only too aware that if there is more breeze later in the week one of the smaller boats could easily slip by, notably Jean Yves Chateau’s Nicholson 33 Iromiguy, the 2005 overall Rolex Fastnet Race winner. “If there are a lot of light wind at the beginning and strong wind after then the smaller boats will have the advantage.”
Racine says he likes the Rolex Fastnet Race because it comes in separate parts. “You have to change your mindset at least three times, from leaving the Solent to coastal to offshore across to the Fastnet Race and back again and then to the finish in Plymouth.”