The Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 fleet will be back in race mode from 1200 UTC on Saturday with the start of the Oeiras In-Port race off Lisbon. This hour-long course promises to be pretty complicated since the crews will have to contend with the current in the Tagus River, the current from the rising tide and a northerly breeze disrupted by the city. That aside, it will be a very important race prior to the eighth leg to Lorient, as four boats are still in contention for outright victory.
Franck Cammas and his men have been training under Thierry Péponnet for the past three days in Portugal, in a bid to understand the specific features of the race zone in Lisbon, as the East-West orientation of the river will make the start and the sail choices crucial if they are to achieve a good result. Four crews are neck and neck, with just 21 points separating this group and frontrunner, Groupama 4, has an advantage of just three points over the Spanish boat. Behind them, the Americans are becoming increasingly insistent with a 12-point deficit, whilst the New Zealanders remain in ambush despite their counter-performance in the last leg between Miami and Lisbon.
This ‘In-Port' race is certainly important in the battle to glean a few more points, but above all it is essential to mark your rivals, as the winner takes six points, second place scores five points, third place bags four points and so on… As such, Franck Cammas and his men will be focusing on trying to contain the attack from the Spanish, their most dangerous adversaries right now. Scoring a podium place in this Lisbon race, as they have in the past 3 In-Port races (3rd in Auckland, first in Itajai, second in Miami), is an achievable objective, even though it should be stressed that the race zone in front of the Belém Tower won't be easy to negotiate.
Though only three teams are in a position to be able to threaten Groupama 4's lead, the talent of the Emirati team shouldn't be overlooked, Abu Dhabi having already scored three victories in this short format racing out of the seven races run since the start of the Volvo Ocean Race. These types of weather conditions won't displease the Chinese crew either, who could do well according to the stability of the breeze. However, the light to moderate northerly wind forecast for Saturday afternoon won't make the tack choices very easy, as the fleet contend with the current from a rising tide and a general counter-current due to the Tagus River.
Whatever the result of this In-Port race though, the major confrontation will begin at 1200 UTC on Sunday, since the eighth leg between Lisbon and Lorient (via the Azores), will really establish the hierarchy with thirty points to be won by the first boat into Brittany. If the weather forecasts pan out as they should, this 1,940-mile course will be wide open: on exiting the Tagus, the Portuguese tradewinds will take the form of a moderate northerly wind (around a dozen knots) and will quickly back round to the North-West as it eases. Basically the Azores High will settle into position right where the VO-70s want to go, as they are compelled to make for a virtual point offshore of Sao Miguel. This point hasn't yet been defined by the organisers as, to date, there's a strong chance that the centre of the high pressure (1,027 hPa) will shift across to a spot right on top of the virtual mark…
As a result, from Tuesday there will be an extended period of calm over a radius of 150 miles across the archipelago. The subsequent lack of breeze would not just create a great deal of uncertainty as regards the race time to Lorient, but it could also have an impact on the result, depending on whether or not a boat is well positioned to be able to make good their escape in a vein of breeze whilst their rivals are left floundering. This lottery wouldn't reveal a great deal about the performances of the boats, nor the quality of the crews' navigational skills. As such, the tension is palpable in Portugal's capital, but Franck Cammas and his men remain confident: after the In-Port race on Saturday, they're heading home! After eight months racing around the world, Groupama 4 will finally be setting a course for her technical base in Lorient. Knowing that the Breton welcome promises to be exceptional gives them a real energy boost…
Overall standing after seven oceanic legs and seven In-Port races
1-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20+6+20+5+25 = 183 points
2-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25+2+15+1+15 = 180 points
3-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30+4+30+4+20 = 171 points
4-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15+5+25+3+10 = 162 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0+3+10+6+30 = 104 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0+0+0+2+5 = 32 points
Groupama Sailing Team website
by Franck Cammas
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2:59 PM Fri 8 Jun 2012GMT
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2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race
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