A confused start and a mistake by the Spanish leader marked this Volvo Ocean Race's sixth In-Port race in Brazil! And despite pressure from the New Zealanders, Franck Cammas and his men controlled the course with flawless assurance... An extremely encouraging result just days after the installation of a new mast and above all a few extra steps closer to first place in the overall standing for Groupama 4.
The weather was stormy and unstable as the Volvo Ocean Race fired up again with the In-Port race off the port of Itajai (Brazil). In rain of varying degrees of intensity, the kick-off was given just a few minutes later than scheduled so as to enable a moderate southerly breeze to move in. The scenario involved around ten knots of breeze and little visibility beneath the squalls, but a very pleasant temperature for racing.
The start was very untidy: the Americans barged their way through at the Committee boat end, failing to respond to Abu Dhabi's luff, they in turn having to leave room for Groupama 4, which was powered up in this phase of the course. As such Puma were dealt a 360 degree penalty. However, the damage was done as Franck Cammas and his men found themselves to leeward of Puma and Abu Dhabi, whilst the New Zealanders made the most of this bottleneck to get past everyone to windward. Indeed the start was carried out under spinnaker and getting the upper hand in the initial metres was essential.
Meantime, everyone had forgotten about the Spanish, who got a clear ride to leeward of the start line and when they came in to gybe onto the first course mark, Telefonica on top of Camper and was able to get past by taking their wind. This resulting stalling by the New Zealanders also enabled the Emirati boat and the French boat to take up root on their stern at the first mark, as the breeze was tending to ease. The whole fleet remained bunched, because even the Americans were still in the match thanks to the weakening breeze.
The short beat towards the following mark favoured a position to windward of any rivals and once again the Spanish made the best of the edge they had and were first to hunt down mark 2. Groupama 4 made the most of this manoeuvre to cover the New Zealanders thanks to a perfect change of tack on their bow! Franck Cammas thus snatched second place behind Telefonica as they were about to begin a long reaching leg, still in around ten knots of breeze.
The surprise came when the Spanish leaders began to make for the wrong mark under spinnaker, whilst the rest of the fleet continued along on a reach! Groupama 4 moved up into the lead at that point and made a dive towards the next mark under spinnaker. The hierarchy appeared favourable with Camper conceding a few metres, Puma and Abu Dhabi around a hundred metres further back... and Telefonica a leg down. As they rounded the leeward mark, the breeze fell away to less than six knots and the beat was shaping up to be extremely tense. Groupama 4 benefited from a good wind shift whilst Camper, forced to get clear of the dirty air left by the French boat's sails, headed off to the wrong side of the racecourse.
Remaining focused in this fluky breeze wasn't easy, but Groupama 4's tactician, Laurent Pagès, perfectly controlled the New Zealanders, preventing them from taking the initiative as the Kiwi boat was at ease in these light upwind conditions. The battle behind them was just as fierce between Abu Dhabi and Puma, though the Emirati boat didn't manage to overtake the American boat which, in turn, was putting pressure on Camper! By that stage, all Franck Cammas and his men had to do was to put in one last gybe before the finish line. Groupama 4 went on to win her first In-Port race with a 48-second lead over Camper and 1'05 ahead of Puma. Most importantly the French team secured some very important points for the final standing since the Spanish leaders finished last...
Laurent Pagès, tactician on Groupama 4: 'It was an intense race! Added to that, we got a surprise at the start because the south-easterly wind kicked back in very quickly: we didn't have a lot of time to prepare ourselves and visualise the right place on the start line correctly. However, we weren't far off performing a very good start in contact with the other boats. After that you had to remain lucid as regards what the wind was doing, as it was oscillating a fair bit, and we had to make sure we didn't fluff the manoeuvre. We were lucky to be in a position to benefit from the mistake made by Telefonica as they were leading the race at that point. Obviously the direction they were taking threw our crew into doubt but the answer came very simply thanks to Charles Caudrelier. We noted that we were making fast headway upwind and we were always striving to stick to the inside track to round the marks. We ended up by securing a win, but above all gained four points on the Spanish leader in the overall standing! It's important for the results in Galway... However, it's also a psychological bonus: we've kept up this dynamic since Abu Dhabi so we just have to continue in the same vein.'
Franck Cammas, skipper of Groupama 4: 'It's a great surprise: we weren't expecting to be in front in this type of race. We were lucky, but we've also made a lot of progress in this format. Added to that, luck smiles on the daring: we were in the thick of the action from the first course mark. We were at ease in all the phases of the game, with a new genoa which gave us good speed upwind. We've also got a better handle on these close-contact races now, which is enabling us to build up our game without having to worry too much about our rivals. Even under spinnaker we found some deeper angles without having to follow the other boats. Winning an In-Port race after a dismasting is obviously a point in our favour, even though there's nothing like the final offshore exercise to really test our reliability. And it's good for morale too...'
Standing in the In-Port race in Itajai:
1-Groupama 4 in 46'27 = 6 points
2-Camper 48' astern = 5 points
3-Puma 1'05 astern = 4 points
4-Abu Dhabi 1'33 astern = 3 points
5-Telefonica 5'40 astern = 2 points
DNS-Sanya = 0 point
Overall standing after five offshore legs and six In-Port races:
1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25+2 = 149 points
2-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20+6 = 133 points
3-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15+5 = 124 points
4-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30+4 = 117 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0+3 = 58 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0+0 = 25 points
by Franck Cammas
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12:17 AM Sun 22 Apr 2012GMT
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2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race
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