The Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 leg eight stopover in Lorient is proposing a dense and lively programme this weekend, with an In-Port race in the Coureaux de Groix on Saturday and Sunday's start of the shortest offshore leg (550 miles) to Galway. Despite a 23-point lead, Groupama 4 must not and cannot ease off the pace if she is to be in with a chance of outright victory in Ireland.
Groupama Sailing Team on Practice Day, Lorient - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
With a break of over two weeks in Brittany, the crew of Groupama 4 have been spoilt on home soil to celebrate their victory in the eighth leg between Lisbon and Lorient. In this way, they've been able to build up their strength again and spend some time with their loved ones, as well as concentrating on the final stage of this match, which will link together two In-Port races in Lorient (Saturday 30 June) and Galway (Saturday 7 July) and a final offshore leg. Indeed, their main focus has been on this shortest offshore leg of the round the world race, which will take them some 550 miles along the coast of Brittany, the Iroise Sea, the English Channel, the Irish Sea and Galway...
Over this past week in Lorient, the weather conditions have been highly varied, with some very light airs on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a good old blow on Thursday and this Friday as a Scottish depression rolled onto the scene. The situation will change dramatically on Saturday with a moderate westerly wind for the In-Port race, which will consist of a triangular course between Larmor Plage, Groix and the Pointe du Talud. An hour of intensive racing, which will force Franck Cammas and his men into an aggressive stance as they try to fend off their three closest pursuers, who are going to be doing their utmost to outmanoeuvre them. They're really going to have to be on their guard to avoid a penalty, which might result in a 360° turn and make a podium place nigh on impossible. However, the crew of Groupama 4 (219 points) are primarily focusing on keeping the pressure on their rivals by leaving the minimum number of points up for grabs for one of their three most dangerous adversaries: Puma (196 points), Camper and Telefonica (both 191 points).
The French team has a considerable edge, given that they'll be sailing on home waters, at the end of the rising tide (High Tide at 1434 hours, coefficient 65), in a disturbed westerly breeze, and Charles Caudrelier, in charge of the navigation during the In-Port race, is very familiar with this zone. However, this short hour-long format doesn't allow for the slightest mistake, particularly at the start, where it'll be vital to latch onto some clean breeze, unhindered by the other competitors. Whatever the result of this race, it won't have a huge impact on the standing (6 points for the winner), though it could jostle things up for Groupama 4's three hottest rivals. However, there's no denying that a good score in Lorient would give Franck Cammas and his men a little more room for manoeuvre and it would also be a psychological boost of course.
Following on from this, 1102 UTC on Sunday will see the start of the ninth and final offshore leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. After a short preliminary course off Lorient, the six crews will leave the islands of Groix and Belle-Île to starboard, before diving towards the island of Sein and climbing up to the Fastnet, to the South-West of Ireland. Once again they'll have to make their way along the coast (Irish shores this time), then leave the Aran Islands to starboard before making towards the finish line off Galway. As such it's a short leg which awaits the teams, though one which is packed with traps, since the course has a number of coastal parameters framing their movements: the effects of land, tidal currents, fishing nets, shipping...
As regards the weather, Saturday's depression is set to distance itself from the race zone, to leave the way clear for another Atlantic disturbance which will propel the fleet along fairly quickly, as soon as it's clear of the North-West tip of Brittany. However, it's the section of the course between Belle-Île and Sein, which will prove to be the most technical, as a north-westerly breeze of around ten knots or so on leaving Lorient, is due to ease as it shifts round to the WSW as the fleet approach the Glénan Islands. The first to make the Penmarch' headland will be in with a serious chance of a leg victory because, following on from this, the south-westerly breeze of around twenty knots is set to last all the way to the finish in Galway (Monday night or the early hours of Tuesday). This long reach across the English Channel and then the Irish Sea is good news for Groupama 4, which is especially fond of this point of sail, but as Jean-Luc Nélias explains before the start: 'our most dangerous adversary is ourselves!'
(Provisional) general standing after eight offshore legs and eight In-Port races:
1-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20+6+20+5+25+6+30 = 219 points
2-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30+4+30+4+20+5+20 = 196 points
Tied third-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15+5+25+3+10+4+25 = 191 points
Tied third-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25+2+15+1+15+1+10 = 191 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0+3+10+6+30+3+15 = 122 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0+0+0+2+5+2+5 = 39 points
Groupama Sailing Team website