At 1500 UTC Team Telefónica held a 1.6 nautical mile lead over Groupama sailing team, followed by Puma Ocean Racing , Camper, Abu Dhabi and Team Sanya in sixth place. But an hour later Groupama had dropped back to fourth place, being passed by Puma and Camper. It was later revealed that a mainsail issue had caused the place change.
According to the latest report Groupama was close behind Puma, and closest to the direct line for Lorient.
At 1900hrs UTC on June 13, 2012 the Volvo Ocean Race fleet are tightly grouped - PredictWind.com
Boatspeeds across the fleet are well into the mid-20kts range, with Groupama recording 27kts and Telefonica 28kts.
Team Telefónica led a furious charge into the eye of a North Atlantic storm on Wednesday, with just 10 nautical miles separating the top four teams overall and the fastest 24-hour runs of the race a real possibility.
How the leading quartet of Groupama, Telefónica, Puma and Camper play the risky situation could ultimately decide the entire race with just 23 points between them and only one more leg to go after the fleet arrive in Lorient on Friday.
The teams have been battening down the hatches in preparation for gale force winds up to 50 knots and waves in excess of six metres that could see the IWC Schaffhausen 24-hour record for the race toppled, but could equally prove boat-breaking.
The delicate balancing act is likely to turn many a skipper and navigator into an insomniac.
On board Abu Dhabi's Azzam the whole team have been engaged in an intense team meeting to discuss their tactics for what skipper Ian Walker described as 'the sternest test yet of this race'.
At 1900hrs UTC on June 13, 2012 the Volvo Ocean Race fleet are in for a fast finish and possibly a 24hr speed record - PredictWind.com
'This leg could still hinge on who pushes hardest and survives the gale force winds ahead,'' the double Olympic silver medallist said. 'We will make sure we are well rested and everything is strapped to the back of the bus before the wind rapidly builds tonight.
'In those conditions, first and foremost it is surviving. The problem is that we are actually racing so it will be a case of which boats push hardest and force everyone else to as well.'
Few are more nervous than Groupama sailing team, who have the most to lose. The overall race leaders, nursing an eight-point advantage over Telefónica, are all too aware that they will have to push hard to defend their narrow lead on the Leg 8 race to their home port.
But, with the conditions threatening to be as tough as the Southern Ocean in Leg 5 when the French team broke their mast and were forced to finish under jury rig, there will be trepidation.
One thing the team are confident in is the stamina of their crewmen, who are prepared to put every ounce of energy into the remaining 1,000 nautical miles, according to helmsman/trimmer Charles Caudrelier.
There is a lot at stake, for sure,'' he said. 'We are realising that we are leading the Volvo Ocean Race, and that we can win it. We are in front and that's more motivation. Plus the leg is short and we don't have to save energy for later on. We are sprinting.'
The teams will be sprinting alright, with 24-hour distances expected to near, if not better, the 553 nautical miles notched by Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand during Leg 1, which has Chris Nicholson's team at the top of the IWC Schaffhausen Speed Record Challenge leaderboard.
Camper navigator Will Oxley said there was plenty of run-way available for the teams to accelerate without interruption, loosening the team's current clutch on the IWC Portuguese Yacht Club Chronograph Edition 'Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12' timepiece.
'There are almost 800 miles before we have to gybe, so there are plenty of opportunities for very fast time/distances to be covered over the next 36 hours,'' Oxley said. 'A 24-hour distance record is possible, certainly the watches are up for grabs.'
Ericsson 4 broke the world 24-hour speed record for a monohull during the 2008-09 race, recording 596.6 nautical miles -- a mark that has not been bettered since.
The latest ETA for the boats' arrival at Lorient, on the Brittany coast of France, is Friday.
0600hrs GMT There was no let up in the three way scrap for the podium positions overnight as Telefónica, Groupama and Puma continued to duke it out for the lead on the approach to São Miguel island in the Azores.
The weather system approaching Lorient - prediction for 2200hrs on Thursday June 14, 2013 UTC - PredictWind.com
It was Telefónica who emerged from the fray marginally ahead to round the Leg 8 waypoint in first place at 0456 UTC -- followed just three minutes later by Groupama.
Third placed Puma rounded at 0508 UTC with Camper another 20 minutes behind in fourth and Abu Dhabi in fifth, rounding at 0553 UTC UTC and sixth placed Team Sanya at 0636 UTC.
This morning the leaders were heading north east in around 12 knots of breeze and preparing for an encounter with a large North Atlantic depression packing up to 40 knots of wind which is expected to sweep across their path on the way to the finish in Lorient.
According to projections from Predictwind the wind will peak at an average of over 36kts later on Thursday evening and remain at that strength through the night.
As that is an average wind strength only, the winds to be experienced by the boats will be up to 10kts in excess of that strength. Boat speeds are predicted to be in excess of 25kts.
Race finish is predicted for 1000hrs on Friday June 15, 2012