A RAFT of rising stars from Hampshire will take on the biggest sailing challenge of their lives on Sunday when they join a fleet of world-class sailors for a 2,000-mile solo race.

Eight Brits will take on the notorious Solitaire du Figaro race, the largest contingent ever to compete, and seven of them come from Hampshire.

Experienced racers Sam Goodchild, Jack Bouttell and Nick Cherry will be joined on the startline by first-timers Rich Mason, Alan Roberts, Sam Matson and Ed Hill.

Southampton’s Goodchild scored the highest ever finish from a British sailor in last year’s race when he finished 11th overall.

Bouttell, who signed an 11th hour sponsorship deal with logistics company GAC Pindar, is looking to recreate the success of last year, when he won the rookie division for newcomers.

The 23-year-old, also from Southampton, said: “Coming from the result in the Solitaire last year I wanted to aim for a top 15 finish but this season hasn’t exactly turned out how I wanted. I’ve had to put a lot of time into getting my boat ready but the top half of the fleet is still a realistic aim. We’ll see how it goes.

“The season started out pretty tough but at the last minute GAC Pindar stepped onboard and it was a really great moment – it’s my first big sponsor and it’s a really positive thing for me.

“My objective for this race is to enjoy the experience. Last year was great and hopefully this year will be similar.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this point. There’s a bit of pressure from last year but there’s no guarantees in the Solitaire – you’re up against some of the best skippers in the world.”

The race, which starts at midday on Sunday, features 38 of the best solo skippers in the world, with the majority coming from France.

The four-stage event begins in Deauville in Normandy with the first leg taking the fleet across the English Channel to Plymouth.

The race then goes to Roscoff, Les Sables d’Olonne and finishes in Cherbourg.