March 7, Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese entry in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18, announced two of New Zealand's top offshore ocean racing sailors and a star of French solo sailing as among its squad.
Joining the team are Stu Bannatyne, a seven-time veteran of the Volvo Ocean Race, fellow Kiwi and Volvo winner Daryl Wislang and the French soloist Jérémie Beyou who finished third in this year's Vendee Globe and has won the Solitaire du Figaro three times.
Stuart Bannatyne (NZL)
Born April 20, 1971
Lives in Auckland, NZ
Seven Volvo Ocean Races and three wins with New Zealand Endeavour, Illbruck Challenge, Ericsson 4.
Broken the 24-hour monohull world speed record on five occasions
New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year in 2009
Eight Fastnet races, three Transpacs and 11 Sydney Hobarts
Daryl Wislang (NZL)
Born May 20, 1981
Lives in Wellington, NZ
Four previous Volvo Ocean Races and winner in 2014 with Abu Dhabi
On board Comanche as it set the world 24-hour distance record in the Translatic Race in 2015 and later won the Sydney to Hobart
Jérémie Beyou (FRA)
Born 26 June 1976 in Landivisiau (Finistère)
Lives in Larmor-Plage, France
Third place in Vendée Globe 2016 (IMOCA Maître CoQ)
Winner of the New York – Vendée (Les Sables d'Olonne)
Three times winner of Solitaire du Figaro
2nd in the 2014 Route du Rhum (IMOCA Maître CoQ)
Winner of Transat Jacques Vabre with Jean-Pierre Dick in 2011
The three vastly experienced offshore racing sailors are the first of the new Dongfeng race-crew to be confirmed and this announcement follows several months of crew trials and testing for the Chinese team, which is sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation, one of the largest automobile enterprises in China.
The team, which finished third in the last Volvo Ocean Race, is now settling into its permanent base at Lorient in Brittany after delivering its newly-refitted Volvo Ocean 65 there from Lisbon last week.
Charles Caudrelier, skipper of Dongfeng Race Team, said Bannatyne, Wislang and Beyou bring a unique depth of experience from a range of offshore sailing disciplines that will combine with the younger elements in his Chinese and international squad to form a powerful racing unit.
"You could not ask for more in terms of experience and miles under the keel," said Caudrelier. "In Stu and Daryl we have two of New Zealand's very best offshore racers who know the Volvo Ocean Race inside out. Jérémie may be new to the Volvo, but we are delighted to give him this opportunity and I have huge respect for what he has achieved. In a one-design fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s, having specialist Figaro sailors like him on board is invaluable."
Caudrelier revealed that Wislang, who has been involved with four previous Volvo teams and won the race last time as part of the crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, will be a watch captain on Dongfeng. Both Beyou and Bannatyne will sail during the race, with Bannatyne likely to be on board for the main Southern Ocean legs.
"From my perspective, for sure it is better to have these guys on our boat – not on those of our rivals," added Caudrelier. "Daryl is a proven offshore warrior; Stu has so much experience to share – especially with our younger sailors – and Jérémie is eager to learn about, what for him, is a new challenge."
Bannatyne, aged 45 and from Auckland, first sailed in the then Whitbread round-the-world race – the forerunner of the modern Volvo Ocean Race – in 1993 on board the maxi ketch New Zealand Endeavour. But as he embarks on his eighth Volvo Ocean Race campaign, with three race wins under his belt, his passion for downwind racing in the Southern Ocean is as strong as ever.
"The big thing with the Volvo Ocean Race for me is the fast downwind sailing, having no bottom mark to worry about going around, and then of course the camaraderie of the team. And I love being offshore and trying to get the best out of the boat," he said.
"In the last race, Dongfeng Race Team really impressed me with their results and with their approach to how they competed in the race and I am looking forward to being part of that this time around," he added.
Wislang, 35, says he is delighted that his "love affair" with the Volvo Ocean Race is set to continue as he seeks a second consecutive race win, this time on board Dongfeng. For him part of the attraction is the opportunity to race with Caudrelier.
"I've always had a lot of time for Charles and I know what he did with Dongfeng last time and how good a skipper and team leader he is," he said. "So I am really looking forward to sailing with him - having raced against him in the last edition – and learning from him and hoping I can give him what he expects from me."
For Beyou, aged 40, from Larmor-Plage in Brittany, Dongfeng Race Team comes as a welcome change of pace after racing alone around the world on his Open 60, Maître Coq.
"I will have to get used to being one of a team of sailors on board," he said. "It's a really exciting challenge. We have high expectations for a result in this race and we have exactly what we need to do well. I am looking forward to sailing with the team again and trying to improve to be the best in October for the start of the race.
Beyou enjoys the eclectic mix of sailors that make up the squad. "Dongfeng is an interesting team because we have people of different ages, nationalities and backgrounds - people from single-handed racing, from dinghy racing and veterans of the Volvo. There is a great spirit on board and everyone is helping each other – it's a great feeling," he added.
Dongfeng Race Team is aiming to build on its third place finish in the last Volvo Ocean Race. It is also committed to helping to establish the sport of offshore ocean racing in China and, as last time, its crew will include several young Chinese sailors who have been trained by the team.
Further crew announcements will be made in the next few weeks as the team's intensive schedule of training and testing continues in Lorient.