Expect Giovanni Soldini to bring fresh blood and ideas to the round the world race


One of the worst kept secrets of the last few months is on the verge of being officially confirmed: Fiat are to sponsor an Italian Volvo Ocean Race campaign skippered by Giovanni Soldini (pictured right. Sorry, couldn’t resist the glamour shot).

Rumours have been doing the rounds since August, when Soldini was in negotiations to buy Torben Grael’s victorious Ericsson 4 as a training boat. Word is that the sponsorship will fund the design and build of a new boat for the next race in 2011.

That will make it the first Italian campaign since Brooksfield in the 1993/4 Whitbread Race – unfortunately most often remembered for her rudder failure and near sinking in the Southern Ocean.

There’s almost always an individual patron behind these deals and in this case I understand the connection is John Elkann, grandson of Gianni Agnelli, and heir to Fiat. Soldini sailed across the Atlantic with him on his grandfather’s maxi Stealth and they have raced together on Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo.

It’s pure speculation, but could the new Volvo boat eventually be a Guillaume Verdier design? Very possibly. Verdier designed Soldini’s all-conquering Class 40 and the two have had a fruitful working relationship.

Verdier is the flavour of the month right now. He is designer of a new 50ft trimaran, Actual, and author [along with design firm VPLP, see the explanation here ] of new Vendée Globe designs for solo skippers Vincent Riou, Jean-Pierre Dick and Jean Le Cam. For the next Vendée Globe round the world race he has ended Farr Yacht Design’s pre-eminence.

Next the Volvo Ocean Race?