Fast & Furious
A new grand prix racing phenomenon is building momentum in the UK where the burgeoning Fast40+ Class looks set for an exciting summer of racing on and around the Solent. The new concept is the brainchild of Volvo Ocean Race veteran Rob Greenhalgh who has been trying to get it off the ground since 2013.
“The Fast40+ Racing Circuit is aimed at lightweight, high-performance raceboats, designed for close inshore boat-on-boat racing,” Greenhalgh says.
There are currently 13 registered teams for the 2016 season, which will see five official Fast40+ Racing Circuit Events and Fast40+ starts at another five events.”
According to Greenhalgh, he came up with the idea during Cowes Week in 2013, when he and other sailors were bemoaning the dearth of fast, exciting racing on offer.
“That year I was sailing in the TP52 fleet and the racing and the boats were great fun, but unfortunately there were only ever two or three boats turning out. We started to discuss what the ideal class would be to generate good racing and be able to attract a decent fleet.
“The IRC 1 Class at Cowes Week that year had about 40 boats of varying size and speed, but it seemed to us that a 40-foot TP would be the ideal sort of thing to try to come up with.”
When Greenhalgh touted the idea for a new class of closely rated sporty IRC racers around his personal network of boat owners, he got enough encouragement to seriously pursue the idea.
“Chatting with owners and sailors, it seemed there was an appetite for something fast and fun to sail with a much more manageable budget than the TP52s,” Greenhalgh says. “The initial aim was to have a series in 2014, but we didn’t quite have the critical mass to do it by then.”
Sensibly, Greenhalgh made sure the Class40+ rule encapsulated the tranche of boats already in existence, automatically creating the potential for a ready made fleet and offering prospective owners the choice between buying secondhand or commissioning something new.
According to Greenhalgh the ballpark figure for a new-build Class40+ design is circa £400,000 with existing second hand boats available at a significant discount.
Despite the not insignificant cost of commissioning a new boat, the Fast40+ sales pitch to prospective purchasers was compelling; an owner-driver fleet of fast, challenging to sail boats, with tight racing and crewed by pro-am crews. Equally importantly was that the boats not turn out to be one trick ponies, but be able to perform competitively in general IRC racing if required.
Unsurprisingly, everyone involved was concerned to be able to keep the seasonal running/racing costs under control. Surprisingly then, limitations on the number of sails per season have not been imposed for the first year, however Greenhalgh confidently expects this to be introduced further down the track.
The boats can sail with up to 11 crew, providing the total crew weight is below 950Kg. No more than five professionals are allowed per boat.
To keep the boats tightly matched, the Class40+ rule limits the fleet’s IRC TCC numbers to the band 1.210 - 1.270. So far, this has attracted five GP42, two Carkeek 40 MKII, four Ker 40 footers, one highly optimised Ker 43 and an Judel Vrolijk designed HH42.
Greenhalgh describes the typical Fast40+ yacht as a light displacement boat that will plane downwind in anything above 15 knots of true wind speed. He says he expects the fleet to naturally migrate towards the upper end of the rating band by the time racing begins this year.
“From that point, the boats will essentially be one-design,” he says. “But then, each design will have strong points and weak points, in light or heavy air and in various sea states. There is plenty of room within the rule for optimisation and sail area changes if required.”
Greenhalgh believes that giving owners the opportunity to tweak their boat’s performance through this sort of customisation wins out over the lure of one-design racing.
“One design classes often struggle with any meaningful evolution,” he explains. “If a design can’t evolve then the class runs the risk of becoming obsolete within five years or so. Also, for a UK or European owner, their boat must have IRC potential, as it is very rare that a one-design fleet can be big enough to support good local class racing.”
The Fast40+ circuit’s inaugural year will see the class piggyback off three well established Solent events - the Vice Admiral’s Cup, the IRC National Championships and Cowes Week - as well as operating two standalone events – the Fast40+ National Championship in September and the Series Finale in October.
All five Fast40+ events will count towards the overall series, with no discards allowed. The season’s points are deliberately back-end loaded, with the fourth and fifth events weighted x 2.0 and x 1.5 respectively.
Greenhalgh says the format for the weekend events was created after close consultation with the owners.
“Typically it’s three days of racing, with around 10 races and one discard. The courses are a mixture of windward-leeward and coastal.”
With an exciting looking fleet of 13 boats committed for 2016, it looks very much like Greenhalgh already has a success on his hands with the Fast40+ Race Circuit. He is not resting on his laurels however and has plans to grow the UK fleet further. There is even talk of setting up Fast40+ Race Circuits in other parts of the world.
“I hope we will have 14 or 15 boats at some events in the UK this year,” he says. “For 2017 I hope we can have even more. We have had interest from Asia, Australia and the USA, so hopefully, this is the start of a great class within the UK and maybe eventually further afield.
“We have been missing Grand Prix level racing in the UK for some time now and the fact that we have so many entries suggests there is a strong appetite for this sort of circuit. A lot of people have been hugely supportive of this initiative – RORC, IRC, all the owners, our partner companies – so fingers crossed we can have a good first season.”
[Main Image: Rick Tomlinson]