When he was first asked to put together the France SailGP Team for the inaugural season, skipper Billy Besson thought it was a hoax. Flash forward to more than a year later and the six-time world champion is ready to lead the French crew into its second campaign having raced the record-breaking F50 through five events and is ready to push for the podium in 2020. He’s also made it a goal for the team to hit the 50-knot barrier in the upcoming season.
With the addition of Bruno Dubois as manager and several new crew members on the roster, Besson will lead a revamped French squad in Season 2 that has a year of experience under its belt and will look to replicate success from Marseille where it won its first race in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.
Besson was born in Polynesia where multihulls are central to the sailing culture. A child of Tahiti, he lived there with his family and learned to sail in the Pacific waters. Besson's influence began with his grandfather and his father, who both sailed competitively and passed the passion onto him at a young age.
Besson’s first taste of international success came in 2008 when he and partner Emmanuel Dodé won the Dart 18 world title at Workum, Holland. Five years later, he once again found himself as a world champion, this time in the Formula 18 class after displaying superb tactical work and a massive show of power off the Compagnia della Vela Grosseto.
However, Besson’s greatest accomplishments lay ahead after the International Sailing Federation choose the Nacra 17 as the equipment for the mixed multihull class at the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics.
Along with his partner Marie Riou, Besson won the mixed Nacra 17 ISAF world title four times in a row from 2013 through 2016, with the pair putting on such a dominating performance in the 2016 competition that they had secured the championship prior to the medal race, clinching their place in the Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, the skipper’s serious back injury deprived the pair of their chance to vie for the Olympic title in the Games.
In recent years, Besson has discovered offshore sailing for himself and competed in two of France’s most prestigious maxi-trimaran campaigns.
To supplement his training, Besson takes his children - aged three years and the youngest, just four months - biking and hiking, often with the smallest one strapped on his back. Besson is also an avid cook; his favorite recipe is his version of roti.