The coast off Marseille: one of the most beautiful sailing areas in the Mediterranean was the venue for the Stellantis Sailing Challenge 2022. The Opel team (pictured here on the right) took part in the regatta for the first time.

Close to the Wind

Taken together, they have many decades of experience in the automotive industry, have a cumulative knowledge of vehicle technology and have already managed several projects together. And then the six colleagues from Rüsselsheim find themselves on a sailing boat in the Mediterranean Sea and try to untangle this large bulbous headsail, the spinnaker, with their combined forces. It has wrapped itself around itself after a turning manoeuvre and is proving extremely unruly. Meanwhile, precious seconds and minutes tick away. And one competitor after another sails past.

How many sailor curses did the crew utter at that moment? “I’d rather keep quiet about that,” says Marten Wittorf with a grin. Besides, the beautiful memories that the Opel crew brought back from this sailing weekend at the end of October are too numerous. The colleagues were at the start of a sailing regatta to which “Oxygene Stellantis” invites every year, an organisation that is responsible for sports and cultural events in the French parent group.

They were at the start under the name “2022 O/V sailing team” (from left): Robert Förster, Thomas Uhlendorf, Joachim Schäfer, Joachim Alberti, Marten Wittorf and Martin Petermann.
The starting point of the two-and-a-half-day regatta was the Îles du Frioul. The island archipelago lies four kilometres west of the French port city of Marseille.

“The fact that none of us had any profound or long-standing sailing experience wasn’t an obstacle.”

– Marten Wittorf –

The fact that none of them had any profound and/or long-standing sailing experience was not an obstacle for them. In early summer, the “landlubbers” had tested their seaworthiness in Sneekermeer in the Netherlands – with the result that they wanted to take on the adventure despite some deficits. So in October they set off for the south of France. The most experienced member of the team, Joachim Schäfer, was appointed skipper. Marten Wittorf, Joachim Alberti, Thomas Uhlendorf, Robert Förster and Martin Petermann formed the crew.

The goal: Do not capsize

In Marseille, the crew met the other twelve teams from the group, including colleagues from Maserati. “Oxygene Stellantis” has been organising the regatta for 20 years, so it was clear to the colleagues from Rüsselsheim that they had no serious chance of winning. “We had therefore set ourselves modest goals,” says Marten Wittorf. “Firstly: not to capsize. Secondly: not to hurt ourselves or anyone else. Thirdly: not to come last.” To ensure equal opportunities, all teams had the same boat model, an “Archambault Grand Surprise”. A noble sailor, about nine and a half metres long. The ideal sailing boat for those who like to go fast. And thanks to the bulbous headsail, the spinnaker, it is agile even in light winds. “We had no experience whatsoever with this type of sail,” notes Wittorf. And that was just one challenge of many.

Speed instead of comfort: The design of the “Archambault Grand Surprise” boats is based on performance. Therefore, it can still be sailed in moderate winds.
Exciting start phases, setting the course, choosing turning points, concentration and nerves of steel: the Opel team did well in the two-and-a-half-day regatta.

“We got better and better and
harmonised more and more.”

– Marten Wittorf –

Even the crossing before the start line for the tactically best starting position – extremely demanding. Especially as it can get incredibly tight with 13 boats on the water. Just like at the turning points of the course. “Upwind”, “half-wind”, “downwind” – plus, of course, the permanent adjustment of the sail. As usual, the regatta consisted of several competitions over short and longer distances. Once, the teams had to sail around the “Îles du Frioul”, which lie four kilometres west of Marseille in the Mediterranean Sea. “And we got better and better, became more and more confident and harmonised visibly,” Wittorf describes. The team had a lot planned for the final day, Sunday. But then the weather threw a spanner in the works. “The sun was shining – but unfortunately we didn’t have enough wind.”

Won nevertheless

The get-together with 90 Stellantis colleagues from all over Europe had already been more than worthwhile for the colleagues from Rüsselsheim: “Getting to know each other and exchanging ideas – that’s the real success we celebrated on this trip,” Wittorf sums up. It is relatively certain that the Opel team will be back at the next Oxygene Stellantis regatta. It could be held next year on Italy’s coast. The colleagues from Maserati have already started looking for a suitable location. And what has become of the goals that were set? “We didn’t capsize and everyone stayed healthy,” nods Marten Wittorf. And goal number three, not to finish last? “We’ll talk about that another time.” The colleagues still have to learn how to spin yarns.

Rounding the island archipelago: The teams are underway with the spinnaker set, the bulbous yellow headsail, including the boat of the Opel team (fourth from right).
Meeting 90 Stellantis colleagues from all over Europe was “the real benefit” of the trip to the Mediterranean coast for the crew from Rüsselsheim anyway.

Anyone interested in taking part in the regatta
“Oxygene Stellantis” 2023, can contact All expenses for
travel, boat, equipment and accommodation must
be borne by the participants themselves.

November 2022

Text: Eric Scherer, Photos: Giacomo Partipilo