INTERVIEW: Jérôme Brarda

Windcraft Racing’s 38-foot Cigarette Hawk, Wild Eleven, competed successfully in the Guernsey Powerboat Club’s Gold Cup race at the start of this month, and the iconic powerboat will again compete in the legendary offshore races at Cowes, Isle of Wight, just at the end of August.

We thought it would be a good moment to catch up with Jérôme Brarda, former race car competitor and driver of Wild Eleven, before the team gets down to the business of preparing for the final UKOPRA event of this season.

Interzone Pictures: You had some problems in the first race of the UKOPRA season at Poole and didn’t finish due to fuel pump difficulties. How did you fare in the second race of the series off Guernsey?

Jérôme Brarda prepares to race at Guernsey

Jérôme Brarda: We did reasonably well. We placed sixth, but I reckon we would have done better if another issue hadn’t hit us just at the start. The engines stalled just as the race was getting under way, and we never managed to make up the lost distance when we restarted.

IP: Were you happy with the boat’s performance, though? It was really your first chance to test it across a completed circuit, wasn’t it?

JB: Yes, you’re right. At the moment, I’m not satisfied with the top speed of the boat, especially in the Guernsey race. The sea was flat calm, our average speed should have been higher. I guess that the problem is coming from the propellers, so we are going to test different sets of props in order to increase our competitiveness for the Cowes race.

IP: At Poole, Wild Eleven didn’t finish because one of the fuel pumps drained a tank. That’s not such a long course, so I wonder will the boat manage the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes distance?

JB: Well spotted! The answer, unfortunately, is that the course for this very challenging race is beyond our fuel capacity. It’s around 200 miles, so instead we are entering the Cowes 100 race, not in Offshore 1 but a different class. It’s a course of 100 miles, about 160 kilometres.

IP: Are you hopeful of a good result?

JB: I am. Given what we’ve learned from the first two races, combined with modifications to the boat and being in a different class this time, I am hopeful of a place on the podium. Apart from the satisfaction that would bring, I’d like to satisfy our sponsors.

Wile Eleven rounds a turn at Guernsey
Wild Eleven rounds a turn at Guernsey

IP: Who have you lined up at this stage?

JB: Our original sponsor was, and remains, Windcap Holding, which is a yacht brokerage based in Florida. Then we were very pleased that Capital Real Estate and Arper International joined us as partners before the Guernsey race — both of them are companies based in Monaco, whose flag we race under.

IP: Tell me about the Monaco connection, as the team is a Monegasque team.

JB: We’ve had a lot of help from the Principality, where I’m a frequent visitor and in years past conducted much of my yacht broking business. Monaco has a long history of involvement in powerboating, you know, and has encouraged racers from all over the world to compete — and in such a beautiful and glamorous location.

If my memory is good, the current ruler, Prince Albert II, won the Monaco-St Tropez offshore race in 1982, accompanied by Gianfranco Rossi, who is a legend in the sport.

IP: Yes, I know that Prince Albert used to be a major participant. And Rossi, of course. Is he still involved?

JB: Well, I don’t know if the prince has any direct involvement, but he is certainly still a fan and supporter.

As for Gianfranco Rossi, I really do want to thank him publicly for his support, as president of the Monaco Powerboating Federation, and in addition our team principal Antonio Spiezia, also resident in Monaco. Without them, and the technical and logistical support they offered, our programme this year would not have been possible.

Wild Eleven at the quayside in Peter Port, Guernsey
Wild Eleven at the quayside in Peter Port, Guernsey

I mean, Rossi is an absolute legend. He has been world champion on multiple occasions, and he won the Cowes classic race, to Torquay and back, four times in a row — in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984. He is still the only driver to have won it four times — some achievement, given what a tough race it is.

As I said, the principality has a long history with powerboating, and the MPF has been an enabling inspiration to the sport in Europe and beyond. I’m quite the international citizen, myself, but I can tell you I am very proud this season to be flying the Monaco colours for the first time while competing.

IP: That I can understand! But after Cowes, have you more plans?

JB: Yes, we have two speed record attempts planned for this season, which will be filmed for use in your documentary series. First, we’re going to make an attempt on the record for the Monaco to St Tropez course I just mentioned, and then we will try a longer run, from Monaco to Cannes.

We will probably make the Monaco to St Tropez attempt at the time of the Monaco Yacht Show, the end of September.

And there’s another exciting aspect to that project. We plan to modify the engines to use green energy in the form of bio-ethanol, conduct a bunch of tests to check its efficiency, and hopefully go on to use bio-ethanol in future races.

IP: Sounds like quite a challenge, or is it?

Planning for this is at a very early stage, so I can’t say much more than I’ve just said. There aren’t really any great technical challenges, it’s more a question of calibrating and tuning.

What I can say is that we know ethanol can give us a higher power output per litre once the engines are properly tuned for it, so we are looking forward to doing our best to squeeze a really high performance from Wild Eleven and get out there and smash some speed records with her.

IP: Are you inspired to do this by such movements as Extinction Rebellion or Greta Thunberg’s School Strike for Climate?

Not by them as such, though we are sympathetic to their objectives, but more by the fact that everyone has to take account of climate change and do their bit to mitigate. We’ve had the notion of using bio-ethanol instead of petrol in mind for some years, but this will be the first occasion where the fuel we use is entirely under our control.

We’d like to see the use of bio-ethanol spread into powerboat racing on this side of the Atlantic and to other places where it’s popular. There are some very good existing cases of using bio-ethanol in the US. In offshore powerboating, many races are run with the entire field of boats powered by the green fuel, and the same applies to other motorsports, including NASCAR, probably the biggest motorsport in the US.

Why not in Europe, which has ambitious targets to substitute bio-ethanol for fossil fuels? We intend to work on this in the longer term, too, not just for a couple of speed record runs.