Negotiations are advanced into adopting the IMOCA 60 class rule used for solo and short-handed ocean races for the next fully crewed round the world race...amid rumours the Volvo Race may be for sale...

Final negotiations are underway between the IMOCA class and the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) to adopt the IMOCA 60 as the design the next fully crewed round the world race.

An announcement is expected to be made before the end of the VOR race in June.

Proposals for the race to adopt the IMOCA 60 rule (formerly Open 60) used in the major solo and short-handed ocean races such as the Vendée Globe and Route du Rhum been discussed for several years. The IMOCA box rule, which has incorporated developments such as wingmasts, canting keels and now foils, is the most successful and enduring rule in ocean racing, and has led to a vigorous secondhand market for these one-off designs.

An agreement could make it possible for teams to do both races with comparatively minor modifications to an existing or new yacht. It would also reduce VOR team costs by whittling down crew numbers; an IMOCA 60 is considered fully crewed with four or five people.

VOR has declined to comment on the discussions at this stage.

An agreement would supersede the concept of a ‘Super 60’ one-design for the VOR announced by former CEO Mark Turner last year. It would have been adaptable for the Vendée and other IMOCA events, but at a high cost – the design had a bigger mast, longer keel and trim tabs. Turner quit the race last September among rumours that the Volvo board had baulked at the costs of creating the new one-design fleet.

The adoption of the IMOCA 60 would mark a big change for the Volvo Race, which moved to a one-design and operates strict rule management and centralised refit and maintenance. The IMOCA rule is democratically decided on by the class association, and anyone who owns a yacht in class automatically becomes a voting member – it cannot be controlled by commercial interests, past skippers or a race organiser. Many skippers own their yachts, and so have a vested interest in ensuring boats evolve (winners need a faster boat), but not so radically that the secondhand value is diminished.

150416- Entrainement en solo au large Lorient pour le monocoque 60 pieds IMOCA Banque Populaire VIII, Skipper, Armel Le Cléac’h.

Alex Thomson, who is on the IMOCA class board, says the vote to allow the VOR to adopt the rule was “nearly unanimous. Only three out of 80 were against it.

“We talked about it with VOR and we expect some announcement, but the ball is firmly in their court.

“The IMOCA rule has the only sustainable ocean racing fleet in the world – and it works.”

Safer and greener

Thomson says the next VOR would benefit from a greater number of entries; the race struggled to get seven this time, and a number are said to be non-commercial. “Loads of teams in IMOCA would have an ambition to do the VOR,” he says. “And I can tell you from our side that any IMOCA skipper that wants to do the VOR is already selling it, especially now Barcelona World Race is gone. It is another race in our calendar that has more history and is more valuable.”

The Vendee Globe 2016 – 2017
British yachtsman Alex Thomson skipper of the ‘Hugo Boss” IMOCA Open60. He finished 2nd in the Vendee Globe solo non stop around the world yacht race. Shown here in the Sables d Olonne port celebrating. He completed the solo non stop around the world race in 74days. 19hours and 35 minutes
Photo by Lloyd Images

Thomson, also president of the class’s technical committee, has encouraged other changes to the class, such as the use of new radar technology he believes will make racing safer. He has worked with Raymarine to extend the use of software that will turn a radar on and off at regular intervals to ‘keep watch’ if a skipper is asleep or on deck, and alert them to target via an external alarm.

The IMOCA rule is also being changed to incentivise skippers to use renewable energy. Until now, designs were measured excluding fuel weight, but including solar panels or hydro generators, effectively penalising renewable energy sources in performance terms. Now the rule has been changed so that devices providing energy from the sun, wind or water are removed from the measurement, but fuel is counted. “This should open up electric and hybrid engines,” says Thomson.

He agrees that managing a class that spans solo and fully crewed races, each following very different routes, could be a challenge and says: “We need to think if this design will be substantially different and how to cap costs. Until we know the route of next VOR, it is hard to think what boats will be like. If the next VOR route is very different then it’s very much a possibility we will see boats designed just for that, but this is something the class recognises and we want to keep boats close together.

“The best way this works is if one platform works for both with minor modifications and are not too far away from each other.”

Volvo Race for sale?

Meanwhile, the Volvo Ocean Race could be close to being sold, according to several sources close to the event. We understand that at least two companies are undertaking due diligence checks before making a potential bid.

The race is currently jointly owned by Volvo Cars and Volvo Group, and that joint ownership may be set to split. Volvo Cars is owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding, while Volvo Group, often referred to as AB Volvo, whose products include busses, construction vehicles and marine engines, remains a Swedish owned company based in Gothenburg.

The race is currently headed up by Richard Brisius, who is also CEO of the company running Sweden’s bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2026.