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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
The field: Foncia heads favourites
Ellen MacArthur's boat Foncia is one of the three favourites to win the Challenge Mondial Assistance race.
The testing, highly-technical course will see the nine multihulls set out from Cherbourg, France, on 12 May.
They will begin with a 1,200-mile slog out to the Azores, then race back via the straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterannean, ending up in Tarragona in Spain around 20 May.
There are two brand-new trimarans in the field - Banque Populaire and Bonduelle - but what they have in speed they lack in laps round the block.
It is a race in which experience will count.
This is where Foncia, La Trinitaine - skippered by Marc Guillemot - and Groupama - captained by reigning trimaran champion Franck Cammas - may have the edge.
Lo´ck Peyron was expected to be a contender in his brand-new Fujifilm. But he was forced to pull out after suffering hull damage.
Orma 2000 standing: 6th
Current Fico ranking: 46th
"Banque Populaire is a new boat, with all the risks that that entails.
"But of course there are some advantages: there is a jack on the forestay which allows us to perfectly balance the trim of the boat by playing with the position of the sails, just like a windsurfer.
"The rear rudder is equipped with blades with an aerofoil in front. There are also lots of other innovations which we will have to test and fine-tune."
Orma 2000 standing: 5th
Current Fico standing: 12th.
The younger brother of Swiss legend Laurent, who co-skippered with a young Ellen MacArthur in the 1999 Fastnet race.
A speed merchant, Bourgnon holds the record for the longest distance sailed by a 60ft trimaran in 24 hours (625.34 miles = average speed of 26 knots).
He is also another round-the-world veteran, having competed in his eleven-year-old trimaran, Bayer, in last year's The Race.
"I am expecting a few nasty tricks as we climb up the Spanish coast.
"Even if you fall a long way behind the leaders, you know that you can catch up in the final stages.
"It's going to be great. There's as much chance of howling winds as there is of dead calms. There will be something for everyone. "
Jean Luc Nelias.
Orma 2000 standing: 4th
Current Fico standing: 10th
While others have been resting in dry dock or having the final touches applied in the shipyard, the Bonduelle crew have been able to get in valuable training.
This could be crucial because, as the heaviest boat in the race, Nelias has decided to sail with only four other crew.
They will have to be extremely well primed to get the most out of the ageing Belgacom, an excellent offshore yacht.
"She was given a fine new set of sails this winter but she is not getting any younger.
"Our trump card is the boat's reliability but it is a double-edged sword as ageing equipment can also be a source of possible accidents."
Nelias has been there or there abouts since he won the Round Europe Yacht race in 1991.
Orma 2000 standing: 2nd
Current Fico standing: 6th
Equipped for the occasion with two new outriggers, La Trinitaine is reaching maturity and this season could be hers
Guillemot, who finished second in the Fico world championship standings last year, is up there with the best.
"The big question mark obviously comes from the new boats. On paper, without a doubt, they are faster.
"But they all need fine-tuning, which could penalise them in a race like this where consistency is vital."
Guillemot says the race will be tactically "fascinating".
"There are two offshore and two "coastal " stretches with the exit of the English Channel and the entrance to the Mediterranean.
"Although we know the first quite well, the latter is always full of unexpected surprises.
"I am convinced that we will be right up there with Foncia and Groupama which I consider, like last year, to be our most dangerous competitors."
Jean Le Cam.
Orma 2000 standing: Not classified
Latest Fico ranking: 63rd
At 42, Jean is the oldest skipper in the race.
Cam, a multihull specialist, will be skippering Bonduelle in her first oceanic race.
"Bonduelle is going to have a really explosive christening.
"Last year, we took part in the last Grand Prix of the season in Royan, but the boat was far from finished.
"She's now ready. We can't really say anything about her capabilities yet, nor how she will perform against the rest of the fleet.
"One thing is clear in my mind: we won't be pushing her to the limit for another year and a half. But that doesn't not mean we won't have some good results here and there."
Orma 2000 ranking: 3rd
Current Fico standing: 9th
A former Vendee Globe winner, Gautier is one of the best known faces on the French yachting circuit and a national hero.
He will skipper the boat and crew member Ellen Macarthur will be in charge of navigation.
"Foncia has proved that she is a good boat, even though we have only made a few modifications she will be in with a shout.
"The new boats which have barely left the shipyard need fine-tuning. These new generation trimarans will have a greater top speed, which will make them dangerous in the Grand Prix races, but speed is not the only factor in oceanic races.
"You also need reliability.
"We'll have to pay attention to La Trinitaine and Belgacom which are excellent offshore yachts, and Groupama, the closest to Foncia in terms of performance in 2000, but which will have certainly progressed thanks to her modifications."
It will be Foncia's last season as a new version is currently under construction in France.
Orma 2000 standing: unknown
Current Fico ranking: 30th
"We don't work like the other teams involved in the race.
"We will be there to observe, and learn the circuit where we will return next year with a new Gitana. So, a bit like last year with the Quebec -St-Malo, the crew will be put together a little late.
"We spent the winter checking the boat. Unlike in previous years, we haven't made any changes to the structure, unlike in previous years.
"We have just checked the standing rigging along the platform. That meant a lot of work as the trimaran can be taken apart. It took us ages.
"In order to be in with a chance, the weather will have to help us: calm sea, 18 to 25 knots of wind.
"It's in these conditions that the boat suffers the least."
Orma 2000 standing: 1st
Current Fico ranking: 4th
Following his sensational performances last year, he is regarded as one of the best multi-hull skippers in the world.
Sailing Groupama, he stormed away with the 2000 trimaran championship in just his third season, a remarkable feat given the technical demands of the class
He also finished top of the Fico rankings.
This year he is back at the helm of Groupama with a new design.
The yacht will benefit from a new centre-board equipped with an adjustable valve to make it more efficient upwind.
"We have got a new mast, some 100 kg lighter than the previous one thanks to a high module carbon fibre and a new design.
"That alone should change the way the boat handles. We have also put an aerofoil on the side of the centre-board, to increase our heading.
"There have also been lots of little modifications that have allowed us to shed a few kilos. "
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