Valencia Sailing talks to Bertrand Favre, RC44 Class Manager
Bertrand Favre the Swiss manager of the RC44 Class, is in Valencia right now and we took the opportunity to talk to him about the upcoming event the class will hold in the city as well as learn about the latest development of this successful one-design class.
Valencia Sailing: What brings you to Valencia? Why is the RC44 Class Manager here?
Bertrand Favre: We are in Valencia in order to meet with the local authorities and work on the 4th event of the 2010 RC44 Championship Tour that will take place right here during the last week of July, more precisely from July 27th until August 1st.
Valencia Sailing: So, can we consider it a done deal? Will it be a one-off event or the start of a longer-term relation with Valencia?
Bertrand Favre: It's done deal, not signed yet but after all we didn't come here to go the beach, we are not on holidays. At this stage, our agreement with the city of Valencia is just for 2010. We are seriously considering coming back to Spain in 2011 and Valencia is, obviously, at the top of our list.
Valencia doesn't need any introduction, it's been the host city of the last two America's Cups. There are some of the world's best facilities located here, there are very good wind conditions in late July and everything is already in place. The boats will be docked in front of the Veles e Vents building, where the hospitality and media will be also located. We will also count with the assistance of BMW Oracle and our technical area will be located right next to their base.
Still, even after this event is over, a number of teams will remain in Valencia until probably the middle of September, in order to take advantage of the facilities and train, given the fact we will then head to Lanzarote where we will hold our World Championship in mid October.
Another very important factor we chose to come here is that we want to attract more Spanish owners to the class and our aim is to have more Spanish teams in the league. Right now we have one Spanish team, Islas Canarias Puerto Calero, and the Calero family is doing a lot of promotion for the class in this country but we wanted to hold an event in a central location in order to be able to meet with the potential owners. We want them to see first-hand how attractive the RC44 yachts are.
Valencia Sailing: What would you tell a Spanish potential owner to go to the RC44 class and not join, let's say, the GP42's and race in the AUDI Medcup?
Bertrand Favre: The fact we are a growing class, for example!! We will have 10 or 11 boats in Austria and then 12 in Copenhagen and I'm very confident we will not have less teams in the future events. We are a strong one-design class that helps the teams, we have cost controls, easy logistics and, equally important, first-rate sailing with the world's best sailors in our circuit. Finally, in a matter of days we will become an ISAF international class. We only have pending some formalities and a couple of signatures.
The RC44 fleet races during the opening event of the 2010 season. Dubai, 25 February 2010. Photo copyright Nico Martinez
Valencia Sailing: Can you disclose how much this event will cost to the city?
Bertrand Favre: No, I can't because it's confidential. Still, I can assure you it's not a lot of money. It's a policy of the RC44 class not to ask for a big amount of money from the local event organizers but rather have very good services provided by them. We want them to be involved, to provide a good event, good promotion and marketing, a nice hospitality area, a technical area, in other words all the services that will contribute towards a great event. As a result, the total cost for a city to hold an RC44 event is between 200 and 250 thousand euros, and this figure includes all the costs that are borne by the city, in their entirety.
In the particular case of Valencia, the costs are quite smaller because, as I told you, most of the facilities already exist and thanks to the help of BMW Oracle the city will not have to provide any technical area or services.
Valencia Sailing: A few days ago you sent out a press release announcing your intention to expand in North America. Can you talk more about it?
Bertrand Favre: This is a project that started around the middle of 2009 after we saw there was an interest from some potential owners. In order to further increase the visibility and interest in the RC44 class in the US we must push it locally. For that reason, we will ship to Newport the latest boat of class, Number 22, whose construction will finish in a few weeks. The boat will be displayed and sailed in Newport from the middle of June, giving all potential American owners the chance to test it.
Our aim is to have 5 or 6 American owners in 2011, all of whom will have newly-built yachts. This number is not small because you have to bear in mind that when we started the European circuit we only had 6 teams. We will, initially, be in charge of the North American circuit, until we establish a separate class, and our target is to hold 5 events in North America in 2011 and probably a joint World Championship with the European class. I'm convinced that due to the very cost-effective and easy logistics of the RC44 yachts, we can have great events on the west coast, the east coast, the Great Lakes or the Caribbean. If you compare it to the most popular similarly-sized class in the US, the Farr40's, then our costs are considerably lower.
Valencia Sailing: What about Asia? Do you have any plans for expansion there?
Bertrand Favre: It's funny if you consider that 2 years ago we were thinking we would have first expanded into Asia than the US. Regarding the choice of venues our focus is either places with a sailing tradition or that have a local team participating in the circuit. Unless you have a local Asian fleet, going to race in Hong Kong is far away and expensive. We have two Asian owners, Frank Pong from Hong Kong and Isao Mita from Japan, but their participation in the circuit is not constant. On the other hand, we have seen more interest from American owners.
Longer term, expanding into Asia is a goal and we might hold an event there in 2011 on the way to the US after holding the season's closing event in the Middle East. Nevertheless, there is a big difference in the RC44 class, in the sense it's controlled by the owners and they have shown greater interest in the US rather than Asia.
Valencia Sailing: Finally, what about Europe? You mentioned 12 boats in Copenhagen, is that a plateau reached by the RC44 class? Doesn't this go against your claim of having a growing class?
Bertrand Favre: It's a number that I would like to have as constant in every event. From there we might want to push it up to 16 yachts but that will make it difficult sticking to the racing format we have had so far. We think that 2 days of match racing followed by 3 days of fleet racing is the best combination that gives the world's best professional sailors the possibility to race and the owners to have competitive fleet racing.
The cornerstone of our match racing format is to have a full round robin with no knockouts. We want all teams to race throughout the event and not be eliminated early on. For that reason, we moved the practice day from the beginning of the events to the middle, between the match and fleet races. That way, if we have any remaining flights that couldn't be carried out, they can take place that day. We also worked with Peter Reggio, our Principal Race Officer, to devise a round robin system with 12 teams but still, it would be a nice problem to have with even more yachts!
Valencia Sailing: How active is Russell Coutts in the operation of the RC44 class?
Bertrand Favre: As you know, he took more than 6 months of "holidays" from the class in order to win the 33rd America's Cup but he's now back in the game, fully operational and in fact we talk about the RC44 class practically on a daily basis.
Valencia Sailing: Since he won it here in Valencia in February, the future of the America's Cup probably depends more on Russell Coutts than anybody else. Do you know whether the RC44 will play an important role in the design of the new America's Cup class?
Bertrand Favre: Well, you have to ask him. We aren't involved in the design of the future America's Cup yacht and this will be decided by the parties in charge of it. Still, a number of future America's Cup owners and a large number of sailors are already racing the RC44 circuit, so this is something that is not entirely out of the question.
We are really happy with the level the RC44 yachts have reached and there isn't any change foreseen in the future, except some minor modifications we made last year. The RC44 yachts are now very reliable and in the last events, even with big breezes, we haven't had any breakages. The only damages we had were due to hard contact, entirely due to human error.
Making changes to the rule will become even more complicated when we become an ISAF international class, because in addition to the owners' approval we will need the approval of a technical committee from ISAF. The owners have themselves decided to freeze the rule and we'll only do things that are absolutely necessary and important.