France’s Nacra 17 Olympic representatives and four-time world championship winners Billy Besson and Marie Riou have been announced as helmsman and flight controller of the France SailGP Team.
Besson and Riou – four-time world champions in the foiling Nacra 17 class – will be joined by Matthieu Vandame as wing trimmer and grinders Devan Le Bihan and Olivier Herledant These three are members of the French America’s Cup syndicate Groupama Team France and also recently helped Franck Cammas to victory in the 2018 GC32 Racing Tour aboard Norauto.
Timothé Lapauw has been named as the team’s reserve grinder.
The new French team was revealed on Marseille Harbour, which will host the final event of the inaugural SailGP 2019 season on September 20 – 22 2019. The Marseille event will serve as the league championship finale with an extra third day of racing, featuring a season-ending, winner-takes-all US$1 million match race between the season’s top two teams.
Besson and Riou dominated the Nacra 17 class in the run up to the 2016 Olympic Games and were favourites for a medal in Rio but crashed out of contention when helmsman Besson suffered a severely herniated disc.
“This is an exceptional and thrilling opportunity for all of us, and I am incredibly proud to be part of both this team and this league,” said Besson. “Though I’ve never sailed on this type of boat and will face a learning curve, I will be able to rely on my crew, which has vast experience on this craft.”
“The French team will surely be a strong contender in SailGP’s ground-breaking first season and beyond,” said SailGP CEO Russell Coutts.
“Billy and Marie have already accomplished an incredible amount, and now have the backing of three talented sailors who raced on the AC50. It’s going to be an exciting first season, with the pinnacle moment taking place here in Marseille, where the mistral wind is likely to challenge some of the world’s best sailors as they seek to win a million dollars.”
The announcement sees Riou become the first female sailor named in a SailGP sailing team line-up so far.
“I am very proud to be part of the French team, especially with Billy as the skipper – he is extremely talented and I trust him completely,” said Riou.
“I am also deeply honoured to be the first woman aboard the F50, and hope there will be others to follow as this inclusive league continues to build.
“First and foremost, I am a competitor and a sailor, and I very much look forward to having the opportunity to post some stellar performances for this team and our country.”