In the Volvo Ocean Race, the racing off the port of Itajai at 1700 UTC on Saturday is a must for all the crews as it confirms whether or not their boat is fully operational prior to the start of the oceanic race to Miami. For Groupama 4, which is using her new mast, this race must be about scoring a few points against the Spanish leader…
In the end there are just five VO-70s in Brazil, since the Chinese boat had to return to Auckland during the previous leg and is currently on a cargo ship, which is carrying it directly to the United States for the seventh leg. Indeed the race to Cape Horn really took its toll on the fleet.
Solely the American boat made it safe and sound into Brazil without a stopover! As a result Puma is breathing down Camper's neck now, after the latter finished the leg in fourth, after a pit stop in Chile to repair its bow. Meantime, Groupama 4, despite her dismasting two days from the finish in Brazil, managed to salvage a third place in this leg and is still the most dangerous adversary to the Spanish leaders in the overall standing.
Whilst some glorious weather has been reigning over Itajai for several days, the formation of a storm zone further inland will transform the playing field somewhat for Saturday's In-Port race: the breeze is likely to be very fickle, very variable and very unsteady, and the accumulation of cloud may lead to some substantial downpours and perhaps some large cumulonimbus causing some violent flurries.
As a result, it looks like there will be a complicated race on the cards because, within the space of just a few dozen metres, one crew could slip along to victory whilst another is becalmed. This is exactly what happened in Alicante, due to an inexistent thermal breeze to the benefit of Abu Dhabi, and to Sanya, where a zone of light airs caused Puma to stall dramatically, despite being largely out in front…
However, it's an important race because all the teams are keen to put up a good performance to confirm the potential of their boat, after the extensive damage which decimated the fleet. Groupama 4 has already had three days' intensive sailing to check the trim of her new mast, which has been adapted and optimised for the 4,800 miles which make up the sixth leg, but more especially for the10,000 miles or more still left to cover until the event finishes in Galway (Ireland)…
Abu Dhabi is certainly under the most pressure: the Emirati boat arrived on a cargo ship on Thursday morning and the shore team has had just 48 hours to switch both sides of the hull!
Thierry Peponnet's opinion, coach on Groupama 4: 'The race zone in Itajai opens onto the Atlantic with an ENE'ly oriented coast where the thermal breeze plays a major role during the day: on Wednesday there was up to 15-17 knots, whilst the general synoptic wind was just seven knots. On Thursday there was a little less and it had shifted more to the North with 10-12 knots. For Saturday's In-Port we're expecting some stormy developments with a southerly breeze… As such it's fairly difficult to make any precise forecasts, as it's very likely that there will be some calms and some squalls. This is especially true given that the format calls for some set times, which aren't always favourable for marking out a good course. As such, anything could happen!
It would be good if the crew could confirm the result they achieved in Auckland where Groupama 4 finished third: a place in the top two would be very positive as these In-Port races aren't easy. The courses are very short, which makes the start phase essential, since the windward mark comes up quickly and the boats are often blocked by a single competitor and the racing is tightly bunched.
The VO-70s are more geared up for offshore racing and the manœuvres are very long and highly involved. As such you have to limit the tack changes and gybes as much as possible, which reduces the tactical playing field. You have to make things as simple as you can.
The crew is also tired after all these legs and Cape Horn. However, the three days of training in Itajai would suggest that the team is in good shape and has made good progress of late. Groupama 4 has some points to claw back from the Spanish leader and their direct rivals. And then there's the small matter of pride! The sailors are raring to go…'
Standing in the fifth leg Auckland-Itajai
1-Puma (Ken Read) : 19d 18h 09' 50
2-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 19d 18h 22' 28
3-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 23d 12h 58' 44
4-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 30d 11h 35' 43
Retirement: Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker)
Retirement: Sanya (Mike Sanderson)
Overall standing after five oceanic legs and five In-Port races
1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25 = 147 points
2-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20 = 127 points
3-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15 = 119 points
4-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30 = 113 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0 = 55 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0 = 25 points
Volvo Ocean Race website
by Vincent Borde
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6:49 PM Fri 20 Apr 2012GMT
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2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race
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