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Tom Dolan and Smurfit Kappa finish first Figaro season on a high

by Will Carson 15 Sep 18:30 BST
Tom Dolan after Stage 4 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro © Alexis Courcoux

Tom Dolan wrapped-up his inaugural Figaro season with another competitive showing in the 'rookie' division of the Solitaire du Figaro. The Irish solo sailor was the second Solitaire first-timer across the finish line at Saint Gilles Croix de Vie at the end of the fourth and final stage of the annual French classic.

Taken with his rookie class victory with Smurfit Kappa on the previous leg from northern Spain, it marks an upbeat ending to the season for the man nicknamed L'Irlandais Volant, The Flying Irishman, by the French media.

Dolan's prospects of overall success in the iconic event suffered an early setback when damage to his mast rigging forced his retirement from Stage 1, and a tactical error on the second leg saw him finish 25th in the notoriously competitive 36-strong fleet.

However, the sailor from Kells in County Meath showed real resilience to bounce back in the second half of the event to finish the 2018 season on a positive note – "The season just got better and better, it's all about making small improvements all the time and that has happened," said Dolan.

"One of the big positives of the year is that when I am out there against the best in the fleet I know I can stay with them, I have the raw boat speed.

"The story of the season for me has been the starts, where I have struggled at times, so the big job for me this winter is to work on that. For me the Solitaire du Figaro is unfinished business after my rig problem on the first leg. But I hit most of my targets in this first year, so I can be happy with that despite some disappointments.

"It has been a very intense year with a very full programme. I am really glad I did it as it is the last year with the Figaro 2 boat which inspired me to get involved in the first place. The plan is to be back next year with the new Figaro 3 one-design boat – and there is a rumour there may be an Irish stopover!"

In contrast to Stage 3 with its light winds and dramatic gains and losses, the final leg of the Solitaire du Figaro saw a more stable breeze with fewer overtaking opportunities on the short 165-mile course round the islands of Ile de Re and Ile-d Yeu off France's north west coast.

"It was all straight line sailing except for a bit of upwind work towards the end where I managed to scrape back a couple of places – the first three boats at the first mark were the three boats at the top at the finish," Dolan observed. "But I was still second rookie and my target had been the rookie podium on all the legs, so there is a positive to take away from it."

The overall Solitaire du Figaro was won by rising French sailing star Sebastien Simon, who finished the four-stage event just over 16 minutes ahead of Anthony Marchand.

Dolan had started his first season on the gruelling Figaro circuit in style, winning the top rookie trophy when he and co-skipper Tanguy Bouroullec took Smurfit Kappa to 11th place overall in the 4,000-mile Transat AG2R La Mondiale from France to St Barts in the Caribbean.

It was an impressive debut in a class which includes some of the world's best singlehanded racing sailors, one on which Dolan built on with a string of competitive results at events leading up to the Solitaire du Figaro, including first rookie in the Solo Normandie race.

Dolan's move to the Figaro followed great success in the Mini 6.50 class where he took numerous wins and podium finishes as well as a sixth overall in the 56-strong Mini Transat Race, an achievement which saw him shortlisted for the Irish Sailor of the Year award.

His transition from Mini to Figaro came with the support of Smurfit Kappa, one of the world's leading eco-friendly packaging companies.

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