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Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama 4 consolidates

by Vincent Borde on 1 Jul 2012
Groupama Sailing Team, skippered by Franck Cammas from France, are followed in by a huge fleet of spectator boats, after claiming victory in the Bretagne In-Port Race, in Lorient, France, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. Paul Todd/Outside Images © http://www.outsideimages.co.nz
In the Volvo Ocean Race, by securing another race win, just days from the finish in Ireland, Groupama 4 has further consolidated her lead: 25 points ahead of the Americans, 29 in front of the New Zealanders, 31 ahead of the Spanish... and there are now just 36 points up for grabs for the winner of the last two races! Franck Cammas and his men did a fantastic job today and showed themselves to be remarkably at ease on the race zone in Lorient, Brittany.

The advantage of playing on home waters wasn't crucial for this In-Port race, which was run in a fine breeze of around a dozen knots of westerly wind, building to around fifteen knots at the end of the match. And yet the French team are very familiar with the Coureaux de Groix since they spent a number of months training here before taking the start of the Volvo Ocean Race back in November. The weather conditions were stable, the wind pretty steady and the tide didn't have a huge amount of impact on strategy, as it was virtually high water. As such the focus was on high quality manoeuvres and tactical intelligence for this hour-long ninth race amidst a big on-the-water spectator crowd.

Indeed the Breton hosts managed to combine their loveliest attire with their finest assets to ensure a truly spectacular confrontation! A big offshore swell to send stomachs heaving and racing machines speeding, a solid chop which you had to properly negotiate amidst the tack changes, a little less wind to leeward of the island of Groix, but a slightly more favourable angle, sunshine and hundreds of spectator craft to envelop the course, which was set in such a way that either you had wind right on the nose or right on the tail, spiced up by two short reaches at the bottom of the playing field.

Hoards of people were on the water, hoards of people were on shore, with very high stakes at play for all the teams. Groupama 4 had to keep an eye out for those coming up behind, second placed Puma was out to try and claw back some points in the overall standing, whilst Camper and Telefonica were trying to gain the upper hand in their tie. Abu Dhabi meantime was vying to maintain her domination over this type of race (Three victories to date), whilst Sanya was keen to show that she could still take the pace despite being from the former generation.

And for the four leaders in the overall standing, this match didn't just have an impact on the deficits in terms of points, but was also an indicator of the teams' psychological positions. As such Franck Cammas and his men left the dock at the submarine base without stress and without too much pressure, their aim being a podium place at best. They also had to try to avoid being hounded by one or several of their three pursuers. With this in mind, the start was a crucial phase. Groupama 4 opted to power off from the Committee boat end, leaving space to leeward for Sanya, Camper and Puma, which was the quickest off the start line. From there everyone made for the island of Groix, save for Abu Dhabi, which was locked out at as the starting gun fired and had to put in a tack.

It was soon clear that the New Zealanders were in pole position, to windward of the fleet, whilst Groupama 4 had to head off to Pointe du Talud to shake off Sanya.

However, uncertainty reigned because on the one hand, the wind was less steady to leeward of Groix, and also the counter current was a touch stronger and the wind a little further round to the right. Camper, Puma and Telefonica fell in line one behind the other on port tack, bound for the mark laid about two miles away, while Groupama 4 made a fine layline on starboard tack. The New Zealanders were first around the mark, but Puma had to let the French boat past to respect priority... behind, Telefonica was also forced to bear away behind Sanya.

There were two tacks required to make the next mark: the timing of the gybe was crucial. The Americans played their hand brilliantly, just a few seconds ahead of Franck Cammas and his men, who were overtaken to windward. However, just minutes later, it was Groupama 4, who managed to trace a better trajectory to the leeward mark by slipping below Puma.

After two short reaches, the fleet were back on a beat for the second leg, with Camper a few boat lengths ahead of the French team, who were ahead of the Americans and the Emiratis, the latter having made a great comeback under spinnaker. Given that everyone was controlling each other, it seemed that the match could only be won or lost on an error in manoeuvring or tactics.

At the final windward mark, the hierarchy hadn't changed but the distances between the top three remained slight. Puma was the first to launch into a gybe to hunt down some wind at the end of the rising tide inshore, whilst Groupama 4 tailed Camper to control her. And when the New Zealanders mirrored them, tactician Laurent Pagès suggested to Franck Cammas that it would be better to hang off a bit... in this way, the Kiwis had to force the descent to aim for the mark, whilst the French crew was able to really reap the rewards of the small gusts of wind and the big swell to pick up the pace. As a result, Groupama 4 completed the second leg at the front of the pack!

This victory comes on top of two previous wins and places Franck Cammas and his men in a very favourable position to loop the loop in Galway! There's no denying that today's performance has given them an even bigger boost over their pursuers, who will have to battle it out between themselves now as there are just a handful of points between them... indeed the New Zealanders, second in Lorient, have gained an important point in relation to the Americans, and two over the Spanish. As a result the final leg, the start of which will take place at 1103 UTC on Sunday in the Coureaux de Groix, is a great opportunity for Groupama 4 to snatch outright victory before the final In-Port race in Galway, as well as being a crunch time for her three pursuers to battle it out for what is sure to be a hotly contested second place.

Franck Cammas, skipper of Groupama 4: 'Obviously, we couldn't have hoped for better than to win this In-Port race here, in Lorient, particularly as this wasn't our aim at the start: we'd have been happy to finish second or third! Unfortunately for them, the New Zealanders left us an opening, which we quickly snapped up. It's a real delight for the whole team, especially as there were loads of people on the water to encourage us. It's a huge pleasure to receive this kind of welcome in a place where we prepared for this race for months. It's good to have a 25-point lead in the overall standing too, which means that we can more serene about the next stage. It was extremely close between the top three today though!'

Laurent Pagès, tactician on Groupama 4: 'The crew was absolutely fantastic in terms of coordinating the manoeuvres: we pulled everything off without a hitch. It's a prerequisite on this type of race. It's essential but it's not easy to implement. I think we put in some good tacks, some fine laylines and Groupama 4 went fast to boot! Camper and Puma also sailed very well, but we had an opportunity at the end when the New Zealanders misapprehended the approach to the final leeward mark... It feels good because it's very positive on an accounting level, dynamically it's excellent and mentally, it's bad for our rivals. This performance has delighted a lot of people around us too!'

Thomas Coville, trimmer on Groupama 4: 'It's a fabulous day for the whole team, a magnificent collective moment! It's an exercise we've put a lot of work into for over a year and a half, and to end on this victory here in Lorient, makes a round the world worthwhile... we had a great battle on our hands with Camper and Puma, with some superb sailing conditions. We pulled a blinder on the final sprint under spinnaker: Franck decided to gybe a little later and we managed to get the inside track at the mark. We had the speed: it's the result of some great collective cohesion. It's fantastic!'

Standing for the In-Port race in Lorient:

1 - Groupama sailing team: 6 points
2 - Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand: 5 points
3 - Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg: 4 points
4 - Telefónica: 3 points
5 - Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing: 2 points
6 - Team Sanya: 1 Groupama Volvo Ocean Race website

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