The Race Around's Co-Founder and Managing Director Sam Holliday returns for the final installation of ‘At The Helm’ for 2021, to reflect on the year that truly kick-started the vision he and co-founder Hugh Piggin conceptualised more than five years ago.
From publishing the preliminary Notice of Race and appointing the best Race Direction duo on the planet, to securing a three of four host cities and bringing numerous new partners on board, it's fair to say it’s been a year of pivotal building blocks on the road to 2023.
All this, of course, was happening amid one of Class40's most intriguing and competitive championships ever seen – a feat that bodes well with less than two years to go until the start of The Race Around.
Here, we recap all the significant movements from a whirlwind 12 months…
THIS JUST GOT REAL!
The fact we can say The Race Around is ‘next year’ in just a few hours' time has only recently crossed my mind and, in many ways, it’s absolutely terrifying!
But I also think it’s a testament to how far we’ve come in these last 12 months. It’s not been an easy year by any stretch of the imagination, but throughout it we’ve hit some big milestones, and continued to build some fantastic relationships within Class40 and with our competitors.
We’ve almost established the final route of the race, been able to announce our world class Race Direction team and been lucky enough to witness what has probably been one of the best Class40 championship seasons that we’ve had for a long time.
Most importantly for me this year, though, is the fact we can now sit here and say The Race Around is a real entity in every sense. That brings excitement and trepidation all in one, but there’s no denying we’re full steam ahead now.
I always said to our ever growing team that until the day that the preliminary Notice of Race was published, all we were was a website and a concept. To have something now that is real, that is bringing commitment from teams, host cities, sponsors and more is hugely exciting.
Anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of writing one will know it’s an experience in itself. The immediate feeling behind the release of any major document like that is relief. It was a huge amount of work and I'm really pleased I don't need to look at it again until we release the official Notice of Race! On the other hand, the number of emails and phone calls that were not only congratulatory, but people expressing significant interest from a competitor standpoint, was really pleasing to see.
It was worth it in the end, and something we had to get right. I think the fact that we are a race run by sailors for sailors certainly came across. Competitors know that they are, and will remain, central to what we’re doing. It also talks about the stringent safety requirements that we and our competitors have to uphold as they circumnavigate the globe.
The other big thing is that it makes the event real in the eyes of the competitors – they’ve now got that document, that structure, something they can always reference, the fundamentals of what we’re doing. It allows them to really buy into the event.
‘WHEN YOU GET THE CHANCE TO WORK WITH THE BEST, YOU SAY YES AND FIGURE OUT THE REST LATER’
There's no doubting that in appointing Jacques Caraës and Claire Renou as our Race Direction team earlier this month not only brings the most fantastic pair of brains to look after the teams, but gives us the highest levels of sporting integrity possible for our first ever race. We couldn’t have hoped for better and as I said it in an interview at the time of the announcement – when you get the opportunity to work with the best, you say yes and figure out the rest later. We’re really honoured to be working with them and it’s great that they believe in what we’re doing, too.
I’m pleased Jacques has said since that it was an easy decision on his behalf because, frankly, I didn’t think it would be. Like all of these fantastic people, they get offers left, right and centre. Can you be Race Director of this? Can you manage that? Some offers raise an eyebrow and some make you think, ‘oh bloody hell, here we go again’. But Jacques and I started talking before the Vendée Globe and we got to know each other well. I think like all good stories, this one probably started over a glass of wine (or maybe something stronger) before the start of the race and continued throughout. A decision was made informally after that very first drink we had.
On a more serious note, we’ve always been very clear from the start about a couple of things in this department.
Number one: that the safety of our competitors is paramount. Offshore yacht racing can be a dangerous sport and you want to do all that you can to minimise the associated risk. To have Jacques and Claire who have been there, done that, and managed some particularly challenging situations is a huge confidence booster for teams, sponsors and everyone involved. It’s a feather in the cap of The Race Around.
Number two: We have been clear that we want to set up an event that has the ability to carry the Class40 category forward on a global scale. So to be able to work with some of the best people in the world is a huge boost for us as a team. Of course, we believe in it, it’s our baby, but it’s