Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 second stage of leg two, from the Sharjah coastline into Abu Dhabi, formed a 98-mile coastal course raced under the influence of the Shamal desert wind.
After a prudent start, Groupama 4 was really firing on all cylinders during the two long reaches and ultimately overtook the Spanish leaders thanks to a final solid sprint under spinnaker.
There were rough, short seas for today's race start at 0530 UTC off the Arab Emirate of Sharjah: around twenty knots of westerly wind with three metre waves and a beat to hunt down the first mark positioned some 18 miles ahead. The New Zealanders on Camper and the Americans on Puma got off to the best start at the end of the line, whilst the Spaniards on Telefonica and the French on Groupama 4 quickly put in a tack to reposition themselves a few hundred metres to weather of the fleet. A long port tack lay ahead as it took over an hour and a quarter for Telefonica, then Groupama 4, to put in their first tack change. The two VO-70s were slightly below the mark and had to make two additional manoeuvres to get around it. The same was true for Puma and Abu Dhabi...
The Spanish led around the first mark, boasting a very slight edge over the New Zealanders, whilst the Americans managed to slip under Groupama 4's bow and Abu Dhabi brought up the rear. The deficits between the five boats were extremely minimal at that point as they prepared for another very long upwind sprint with sheets slightly eased to hunt down mark 2, moored around fifty miles further down the racetrack to the West-South-West.
Three hours later, Franck Cammas and his men were right on Telefonica's stern as the latter led the fleet around the second course mark: the two sisterships were unquestionably the most at ease in these sailing conditions (17-22 knots of breeze at 70°) since the New Zealanders were relegated to 1.1 miles astern, the Americans 1.3 miles astern and the Emirati boat 2.8 miles shy of the leaders! There were still 23 miles to go and the fleet were continuing to sail with eased sheets as they homed in on mark number three offshore of Abu Dhabi, before bearing away sharply for a final twelve mile sprint, on a broad reach to the finish line.
1hr20 later, the Spanish on Telefonica were first around the final course mark of this 98-mile course, though Groupama 4 was closing fast, less than a hundred metres astern of her, whilst the other three VO-70s had dropped back. As such there was just one fast reach under spinnaker to the finish of this drag race, where the two Juan Kouyoumdjian designs were able to show just what they were made of in the breezy conditions which continued to punch into them providing 20 knots or so of wind.
Just after the manoeuvre to hoist the spinnaker, Franck Cammas and his crew screamed into the lead and held onto it to the finish off the port of Abu Dhabi. The final sprint proved to be extremely close since Groupama 4 crossed the finish line just 52 seconds ahead of Telefonica after a little less than seven hours of racing! This victory for the French boat doesn't alter the hierarchy in the overall standing but it does demonstrate that the French team can make the right choices when it counts, and above all that the crew has made considerable progress in this format of short races and is capable of linking together manoeuvres smoothly. The shore crew now have eight days to prepare the boat in preparation for the next 'In-Port' race off Abu Dhabi, on 13 January, then another short leg before once again being loaded onto the cargo and shipped to the secret port in the Indian Ocean. Quotes from the Boat:
Franck Cammas at the finish in Abu Dhabi: 'Telefonica defended itself very well as we were a touch quicker and they gave their all to prevent us getting past them. We had one last chance because we managed to position ourselves to windward of them and thanks to a gust we were able to overtake. They are a very good crew with a very good boat and we're very happy to have been able to get past them. It has to be said that the conditions were perfect for Groupama, which is particularly fond of reaching in breezy conditions. It was nice to get a bit of revenge after the first part of this second leg, because we were in a winning position at one point and were very frustrated not to pull it off. This morning we were still a bit concerned about finding our bearings, but I think we were so fast that the anxiety didn't even have time to surface. It's a fantastic day for the whole of Groupama sailing team, and it's been a real confidence boost. It may not have given us many points, but this victory is important for the next stage...'
Thomas Coville: 'It was a fine battle, all the way to the finish. On a personal level, this is what the Volvo Ocean Race is all about for me: never give up on anything! We enjoyed a very fine match race in some fantastic sailing conditions... Even though it was very wet on deck! We were with Camper at the start and Laurent (Pagès) viewed the race zone brilliantly. Thanks to our speed, we were gradually able to make up ground on Telefonica. We were spoilt by the warm wind and the sunshine and the sea was rough and vigorous but okay.'
Charles Caudrelier: 'The course was pretty simple in terms of navigation: it was only the first part which required some tacks. We didn't go off on any fliers and remained with the fleet as the aim was to stay in contact for the big sprint with eased sheets where we knew we were pretty quick. The success of this leg is the result of the work carried out by all the technical team: we have a research department, guided by Franck (Cammas), which analyses the different parameters. It's a good feeling to rack up this victory! Indeed, though the boat is quick, it's also down to the crew which was superb today...' Standing for the second part of the second leg (Sharjah to Abu Dhabi: 98 miles)
1-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) at 12h 22' 09 UTC
2-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) at 12h 23' 01UTC
3-Camper (Chris Nicholson) at 12h 27' 48 UTC
4-Puma (Ken Read) at 12h 28' 38 UTC
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) at 12h 32' 21 UTC
DNS-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) Overall standing after the second leg
1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) 66 points = 1+30+6+24+5
2-Camper (Chris Nicholson) 58 points = 4+25+5+20+4
3-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) 42 points = 2+20+2+12+6
4-Puma (Ken Read) 28 points = 5+0+4+16+3
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) 19 points = 6+0+3+8+2
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) 4 points: 3+0+1+suspended racing Groupama Sailing Team website