The debut of the One Design class in 2014-15 will make the Volvo Ocean Race more competitive and tougher to win than ever before, skipper Ian Walker told the World Yacht Racing Forum in Gothenburg.
"For me it’s ignited a whole new interest in the Race" - Ian Walker
The British twice-Olympic silver medallist told a packed conference that the Volvo Ocean 65 made the Race more attractive than ever for elite sailors like himself who wish to compete at the cutting edge of offshore racing.
The development put the focus of the Race firmly back on the seamanship of the competitors, he explained.
“From what I hear the boat will be quicker downwind than the old Volvo Open 70s and that excites me – it will be enticing people to sail the boats,” said Walker, 42, who guided Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the 2011-12 Race after making his debut as Green Dragon skipper three years earlier.
Walker said the switch to One Design had given him renewed enthusiasm to compete in the Race after struggling at times to match the pace of rival boats in his two previous appearances.
“I want to do the Race with a level playing field," Walker said. "For me it’s ignited a whole new interest in the Race. It will still be brutal. The sailors will have it harder physically. There will be less sleeping and more time out on the rails competing.
“It will be very, very close, that I’m sure.”
Walker told the Forum that Volvo Ocean Race chief Knut Frostad had no option but to switch to the One Design, which was unveiled during the last edition in June.
“I don’t think there was any choice. If everything had stayed as it was, you would have had to have your funding in place by February next year as a team to have a realistic chance of challenging properly. The answer would be that in most cases that wouldn’t have been possible.
“The big difference is we have much more opportunity now to compete if you sign up for the Race with a team late. In the past if you started the programme late you really were signing up with a much-reduced chance of winning the race.
“This time you have another whole year to organise the team and have genuinely the same chance of winning as everybody else. It is still better to start earlier but it’s not insurmountable any longer.”
Walker's comments followed a presentation by Marcel Mueller, managing director of Green Marine, the British boatyard that is heading the construction consortium for the new Volvo Ocean 65s. The first of the new boats should hit the water in June 2013.
Mueller detailed the competitive and commercial motivation behind the new class launch.
Patrick Shaughnessy, of designers Farr Yacht Design, praised Volvo Ocean Race for “taking the lead” in telling the story for its fans as the boat was put together.
“This new design boat has got to be cutting edge and grand prix – to last for two races. That’s the challenge,” added Walker.
Event race director Jack Lloyd summed up: “We were told this was going to be a big job. They were wrong – it’s a massive job.”