For almost fifty years, teams of powerboat racers have flocked to the River Seine about ninety miles west of Paris to compete in the 24 Hours of Rouen. Often dubbed “most grueling race in powerboating,” the event has seen its share of triumph and tragedy. The most recent tragedy happened in 2010 when a raceboat collided with a safety boat and left one person dead, which prompted race organizers to go from a single-day, 24-hour race to a two-day, 12-hour racing format in 2011.
This year, the 24 Hours of Rouen moves to a new three-day, eight-hours-of-racing-a day format. What’s more, for the first time in the event’s history the field will include an international team of women racers when Tammy Wolf from Canada, Bimba Sjoholm of Sweden, Mette Bjerknaes of Norway and Marie-Line Henricher of France take to the water. The team of experienced female racers will run—in mandatory two-hour shifts—in a carbon fiber Moore hull-tunnel boat powered by a 2.5-litre Mercury OptiMax two-stroke outboard engine.
The race includes Formula 1, Formula 2, and Formula 3 classes. Though it does not have a formal name at present, the all-woman team will compete in the Formula 2 class. In addition to competing within their classes, all entries are eligible in the overall category. That makes sense given the grueling nature of the endurance event, which is as tough on hardware as it is on drivers.
Although the competitors no longer race around the clock, the 1:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. running time on all three days ensures that each team will have to contend with running at night. Despite lights on each boat, running after dark has proven to be the most treacherous aspect of the race over the years.
There are two other significant challenges racers face in the 24 Hours of Rouen. First, the Seine is not closed to traffic during the event, which means racers have to share the river with other vessels, including commercial barges that create huge wakes. Second, the river is close enough to the Atlantic Ocean to be tidal. An incoming tide combined with the river flowing to ocean can create 3- to 5-foot back-rollers.
Backing the all-woman team in the 2012 event is Peters & May, the world leader in yacht and powerboat logistics and transportation. At present, the United Kingdom-based company sponsors almost twenty teams.
“We like the idea of multinational teams," said David Holley, the chief executive officer of Peters & May, in a press release from the company. "Here, we have a global team, all women and the first North American woman to compete at Rouen. It's exciting to be a part of something historic."
- Matt Trulio