With less than 40 days before the opening of Season 2 of SailGP in Sydney, the French team is aiming to reach its 2020 objectives as early as possible in the season. The objectives are twofold, to perform well at each event and ensure that it is among the best teams in the global championship by the end of the season. The team, which is now managed by Bruno Dubois, wants to build on the experience of its first season, while also embracing new opportunities, to ensure the highest level of performance in its second year of global competition.
Introducing the class of 2020:
New flight controller
After finding out that they have not been selected for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the news concludes the end of Billy Besson and Marie Riou’s Olympic partnership in the Nacra 17, and also marks the latter's departure from the France SailGP Team. The pairing, who together have won four world titles, remain close friends despite reaching the end of this chapter together. Riou will be replaced in the key position of flight controller by multihull expert, François Morvan.
“François was our back-up flight controller in 2019, working closely with the performance team, and despite not having sailed much on the boat, has already demonstrated his skillset. He has taken part in simulator sessions and lived with the team, so he knows how we work and therefore was a logical choice,” said Besson.
There has also been a change on the coaching front with the arrival of Thierry Douillard. A multiple winner of the Tour de Voile, an offshore racer, former coach of the Oman Sail team and weather router for Sodebo Sailing Team, he was the obvious choice to replace Franck Citeau and Stevie Morrison, who have both moved on to other activities.
"Thierry has had an impressive career and he has exceptional qualities: he is familiar with the technical aspects of the boat and data analytics, as well as being comfortable in an Anglo-Saxon environment. His profile absolutely matches what we are looking for,” said Besson. “He will bring a lot to the team.”
A fourth grinder
Finally, the sailing team welcomes a new kid on the block in Jules Bidegaray. The 25-year old from Hyères is the winner of the competition launched in Marseille in the autumn, to recruit a young grinder. Hailing from France’s Youth Team and a previous competitor in the Tour de Voile, Bidegaray will join the other powerhouses of the team – the very experienced Olivier Herledant, Devan Le Bihan and Timothé Lapauw – who competed with the team in Season 1.
"For us, the most important thing is that the team is fully operational from the get-go,” said Besson. “These are very demanding positions that require you to be fit and fresh - you have to be physically and mentally prepared to work hard.”
A new modular wing in the spring
Referencing the new make-up of the team, Besson explained: "The idea is to try to get a second wind, new energy to move forward and achieve our clear performance objectives. But also we didn’t want to turn everything upside down!”
Matthieu Vandame, one of the core members of the team, remains as wing trimmer. However, this year he will have the additional challenge of handling and managing the settings of the new modular wing, which will be used from the second event of the season in San Francisco (2-3rd May). The modular wing (which can decrease to 18m in height or expand to 24m tall depending on the wind strength), can be adapted to a wider range of sailing conditions. With breeze and in the reduced configuration it will allow the F50 to reach higher speeds - “so we should still gain a few knots!” promised Vandame.
“Baring our teeth”
As for the boat's skipper and helm, he is starting this new season with an enormous appetite to do battle. 2019 was a year of discovery for the French team and 2020 will be the year when it comes of age. In its first season, the team ticked lots of boxes: tamed the F50 in most wind and sea conditions, almost capsized, took textbook starts, and experienced both the top and bottom of the ranking.
"This experience allows us to be more confident – we now know we will be able to attack hard, without being concerned," said Besson.
Pending the start of training on the F50, scheduled from the 20th February in Sydney, ahead of the opening event of Season 2 on the 28th and 29th, the France SailGP Team will be together for a number of events over the coming weeks, including two simulator sessions and be in attendance at Global Sports Week. With less than one month before the start of racing there is already a sense of intense energy in the team.
"We are all very, very motivated and Billy has the bit between his teeth!" concludes Vandame.
France SailGP Team for 2020:
Name / Position / Age / Hometown
Billy Besson/ Helmsman / 38 / Sevrier, France
François Morvan / Flight Controller / 36 / Nantes, France
Matthieu Vandame / Wing Trimmer / 37 / Rennes, France
Olivier Herledant / Grinder / 39 / Douarnenez, France
Devan Le Bihan / Grinder / 36 / Hennebont, France
Timothé Lapauw / Grinder / 27 / Antibes, France
Jules Bidegaray / Young Grinder / 24 / Hyères, France