In Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race, Puma held firm in the face of a relentless attack from Telefónica to clinch an epic victory, crossing the finish line in Itajaí, Brazil with a winning margin of just 12 minutes after the Spanish team had threatened to complete one of the great sporting comebacks.
Jono Swain driving towards a brilliant post-frontal sunset. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil.
After more than 7,500 nautical miles of racing from Auckland, starting with a first-night battering as bad as any in the race’s history and on through brutal conditions in the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn, Puma’s Mar Mostro finished in brilliant sunshine at 19:09:51 UTC.
Telefónica, who had been a constant threat to them, followed her in at 19:22:29 UTC for a second place that strengthens their position as overall leaders with five of nine offshore legs now complete.
Both boats were roared home by dozens of spectator boats and thousands of fans lining every possible viewing position on the way in.
It was an extraordinary finish to the battle for first place in a leg that saw five of the six boats forced to stop for repairs.
Telefónica were 400 nm behind the leaders when they resumed racing following a pit stop to work on structural damage to their boat. They quickly began to reduce that gap and when Groupama sailing team were forced out following a dismasting they were suddenly in a two-way battle for first.
Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg score 30 points for their win, taking their total to 113 points. It means they are just 34 points behind overall leaders Team Telefónica, despite having been forced to retire from Leg 1 because of a broken mast.
Pablo Arrarte at the trim looking at the sunrise onboard Team Telefonica during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)
Groupama will reduce the Telefónica lead to 20 points if they complete the leg in third place under jury rig, as planned.
Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, currently carrying out repairs in Puerto Montt in Chile, can get back to within 28 points if they complete the leg in fourth.
As it became clear that Puma were doing enough to hold off Telefónica, the team's Media Crew Member Amory Ross handed out chocolate treats to the crew, before skipper Ken Read took back the helm to take his team over the finish line.
'We've never seen such an amazing welcome,' said an overwhelmed looking Read, who took time to sympathise with his five rivals and their problems over the course of the leg.
'I've never done such a tough offshore leg in my life. It's been pretty intense. Our hearts go out to the crews who have suffered damage. We know what that's like and it's even worse when it's in a place like the Southern Ocean.'
Telefónica had been written off after suspending racing for 17 hours for structural repairs inside the Cabo de Hornos National Park on March 31. The team resumed racing at 2133 that same day, more than 400 nm behind the leaders.
Nevertheless, a powerful South Atlantic front that rose from the south propelled Telefónica to within striking range of Puma within days. Anxiety levels were rising on board Puma, even after Groupama’s dismasting on April 4, but Read’s men were able to steel their nerves in a long match-race to the finish line for their first leg victory in this edition.
Puma have had a steady rise since the devastating blow of their broken mast on Leg 1. In the past four scoring events Pua have finished second three times and now first, with real momentum with the American-based team as they head towards Leg 6 to Miami in the United States.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will ship their boat to Itajaí for Leg 6, while Sanya will rejoin the race in Miami after losing a rudder while leading earlier on Leg 5.
Volvo Ocean Race website