dmg mori kojiro shiraishi
Édition 2023 31 October 2023 - 13h41

For Japan's Kojiro Shiraishi finishing races is now a top priority

Year on year nothing much seems to change about the amazing Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi. The youthful zest for life, the permanent megawatt smile, humble demeanour but most of all the burning, single minded passion that has driven him from humble, non sailing beginnings as a dreaming teenager in his native Japan, through learning ocean racing from his inspirational Japanese mentor Yukoh Tada to finally becoming the first Asian skipper to finish the Vendée Globe on the 2020-2021 race, Koji has become one of the most popular and respected skippers in the IMOCA fleet.

But after an unfortunate collision hours into last year’s Route du Rhum, in his challenge to qualify for the next Vendée Globe. Shiraishi now has very little wriggle room. His requirement to deliver for his sponsors in Japan, taking his DMG MORI GLOBAL ONE there in 2021 post Vendée Globe, means he works a three year cycle and so he did not race the last Transat Jacques Vabre. So now he is under pressure to finish all the four Transatlantic races across this year and next. 

Winter modifications include a new set of foils for the VPLP design which was built from the moulds of (ex 2019 Charal) which he admits he and French co-skipper, boat captain Thierry Duprey de Vorsent, are still getting to know. 

But if he is feeling the pressure it does not seem to affect Shiraishi’s smiley, positive  outlook on life in the IMOCA fleet. 

Koji how is the boat, did you manage to get much training and racing this season? 
“The boat is really well prepared, the best it has ever been. During the Fastnet and the Azimuth we had a few problems but we have overcome that. During the Fastnet we lost the two masthead units because of the movement of the mast head with the new, bigger foils so we have reinforced the masthead and the reinforced the area behind the foils on the hull as there was some problems there. 
We recut a few sails which need that because of the new foils too.

How does it feel compared to before? 
“ We are foiling at a lower windspeed, typically now 14kts when before it was 18-19kts. We are still in the learning phase trying to maximise the stability of the boat as the big foils we are up and down, so we are learning the foil rake and the keel settings and the ballast. Within our Benoit Mariette – who is a Figaro racer that is in charge of our technical department – he does all performance analysis. We saw on the speed runs at the Azimuth that we are now quite on par with some of the newer boats.”

You chose a relatively modest, rather than extreme foil, and do you have some new sails? 
“ Our foils are not extreme, they are very similar to those C foils of Damien Seguin and Malizia. And we don’t have new sails for this season but next season we will have a full set. Right now we are learning about the boat how it will be with the new configuration. We are working with two sailmakers, with both North Sails and Incidence. We made this choice so we can get as much information and ideas as possible. I am not so well informed about the sails in terms of knowing the fine detail of what I want. I need to have a bit more input and understand what others are doing. Both have been onboard quite a few times and that has been really interesting.

And so missing the Route du Rhum a year ago leaves you with a small mountain to climb? Qualification for the Vendée Globe is actually quite tough for us as of course we did not complete the Route du Rhum and we missed the Transat Jacques Vabre last edition so we have some catching up to do, we need to do all the races there are and finish them. Last edition we were in Japan with the boat for PR purposes. So we need to finish all the races. That is quite stressful for all of us on the team. And we always need to go to Japan straight after the Vendée Globes for our sponsors, so in effect we run to a three year cycle.”

And so how does this affect your choices and the way you will race? 
“ We need to think all the time long term. We cannot focus too much on any one year, we need to spread out the resources. These next two races I need to finish, that is the number 1 priority. Next year it will be the last preparation before the Vendée Globe and so we need to focus on making the right choices. We need to finish. That is the point. If we don’t finish we will not be able to do the Vendée Globe. Our focus is entirely on the Vendée Globe and to achieve this we need to do the races, to jump through the hoops. But that is life, it is what we have to do. To do all these races is very tough. We are lucky to have a spare mast but if another team loses a mast now and has no spare they are in big trouble. So that is four races across the Atlantic 

And tell us more about your co-skipper? 
“ My co-skipper Thierry is very qualified and has lots of experience and for two years he has been our boat captain, so is important to get him some experience racing on the boat so he can help with problems on the Vendée Globe. We work in French, English, Japanese…..but seem to understand each other. Thierry is always serene and composed. And he has the experience of having problems at sea and technically he is very good. And between us we have so many years at sea. 

What is usually on the menu, do you both eat Asian? 
“We have the same diet and Thierry loves the rice I bring specially from Japan. And this is a non smoking boat so I will allow him a special treat every so often when we are doing well (laughs).” 

And how is it being back on the race dock here? 
“It is great to see Mike Golding back here, I have known him for so long. I remember meeting him at the Velux Five Oceans in Bilbao (Koji finished second to Bernard Stamm in 118 days.”