SAILING. VOR2012, Leg 7 Day 12 – Abu Dhabi shrugged off seven months of frustration to seal their first offshore victory in a nerve-jarring transatlantic leg from Miami to Lisbon, while Groupama’s second place finish -- five and a half minutes behind after more than 3,500 nautical miles racing -- was enough to take them top of the leaderboard in place of long-term leaders Telefonica.
Broken through the high-pressure and headed for Lisbon. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Miami, USA to Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo Credit © Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)
Groupama spent days snapping at the heels of the Emirati team and were within a mile of their rivals as they headed up the River Tagus towards the finish line.
Ian Walker’s team defended resolutely, however, matching their rivals gybe for gybe to ensure their first podium finish on an offshore leg would also be their first win, and spark wild celebrations lit up by a booming firework display.
For Groupama, the consolation prize came soon enough, as Telefónica’s finish in fourth place -- behind PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG in the third podium slot and just ahead of CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand -- meant the French team climb above them.
Abu Dhabi, who finished at 21:23:54 UTC, received 30 points for victory, with Groupama netting 25 after their finish at 21:29:21. PUMA took 20 points, Telefonica 15 and CAMPER 10.
Team Sanya finished sixth to pick up five points.
Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas, now lead Telefónica by three points overall, with the Spanish team dropping off the lead for the first time since their victory on Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town back in November.
Four teams remain separated by just 21 points, making it the closest contest in the 39-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race with just two offshore legs and three in-port races still to come.
The arrival in Lisbon represented a homecoming for Abu Dhabi, who had a training base in nearby Cascais during the build-up to the race.
"It's incredible -- what a welcome," said Walker, before he and Emirati crew member Adil Khalid were chucked into the water by their team mates.
"Do you think you can make the last 10 miles of a race any harder than that?
"It’s one of the most amazing experiences of my sailing career, that’s for sure. Mentally, certainly I’m exhausted. It's just such a relief."
Abu Dhabi also visited Lisbon in much less happy circumstances during Leg 1, after a dismasting within the first few hours ultimately forced them to ship the boat from Lisbon to Cape Town.
While they have notched up three victories in in-port races, and have a strong chance of winning the series, this is the first time they have really been able to shine in an offshore leg.
First Groupama and then Telefónica enjoyed the lead for long spells on a leg that started out looking like a fast, direct sprint across the Atlantic before the effects of Tropical Storm Alberto altered things drastically.
One by one, the boats were forced to head ever further north towards the ice exclusion zone.
Abu Dhabi moved into the lead on Day 6 and after briefly surrendering it to CAMPER they were back ahead the following day.
Two days later they were clear, though skipper Ian Walker warned repeatedly that a light-air zone inside the final 300 nautical miles would see the fleet compress.
That’s exactly how it turned out, with Abu Dhabi forced to scrap every step of the way to an emotional victory at the team’s second home.
"It came down to the wire, and we certainly had our ups and downs, but we are very happy," said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. "it was a good operation for us!"
Third place for PUMA kept them in contention for the overall lead, 12 points behind new leaders Groupama.
"This is a great result," said the team's American skipper Ken Read. "There’s still a lot of points on the board and to be on the podium is a big deal for us."
The battle between Telefónica and CAMPER for fourth and fifth came down to a slow-motion tussle over an excruciating final few miles, with no breeze and the current against them.
Telefónica eventually finished with an advantage of 102 seconds and less than a boat length for a five-point boost that could yet prove crucial.
The action resumes with the In-Port Race on June 9, followed by the start of Leg 8 to Lorient the following day.
Volvo Ocean Race
June 1, 2012 - 0130 UTC
LEG 7 RESULTS
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 11d, 04h, 23m, 54s
2. Groupama sailing team – 11d, 04h, 29m, 21s
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG – 11d, 06h, 26m, 52s
4. Team Telefónica – 11d, 08h, 28m, 27s
5. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand – 11d, 08h, 30m, 09s
6. Team Sanya – 11d, 08h, 44m, 25s
RACE LEAD IN THE BALANCE ON NERVE-RACKING FINAL MILES
SAILING. VOR2012, Leg 7 Day 12 – The overall race lead is hanging in the balance as Groupama sailing team battle longstanding Leg 7 leaders Abu Dhabi for a crucial victory with just over 100 miles remaining in what has been the closest leg of the 2011-12 edition yet.
At 1300 UTC Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were vehemently fighting to protect an 18 nautical mile lead, one that they have held since May 26 and which promises to deliver the Emirati team their first leg victory.
But while Abu Dhabi were doing enough to stay clear, Groupama's more southerly position had the potential to deliver better angles in conditions that are very much the French team’s strong suit -- close reaching.
Should the French team secure their second leg victory and finish two places clear of overall race leader Team Telefónica, who were struggling in sixth place at 1300 UTC, it would be enough to catapult them to the top spot, depriving the Spanish team of the lead they have held since the race started in October.
The high-stakes finish in what Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker regards as one of the “blue ribbon” legs of the race is keeping the double Olympic silver medallist on high alert.
“It’s quite a tricky finish all the way to Lisbon up the river against the current and the wind is forecast to go lighter, so I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of nervous moments,’’ Walker said.
“Right now, although we’re ahead of Groupama they’ve got a slightly better angle so it’s really, really close. It’s going to be right down to the wire.”
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, currently in third place, are not giving up hope of edging back into second, a position that they have been exchanging with Groupama for the past two days.
Having survived the dreaded crossing of the 200 nm wide ridge overnight relatively unscathed PUMA skipper Ken Read said it was great to be back sailing in consistent wind, with the Portuguese trades propelling the fleet.
Another challenge awaits, however, in the form of the two to four knot current that will work against the teams as they race the final miles to the Lisbon finish line.
Read said he had scoped out the waters of the finish once before, while navigator Tom Addis had been doing his usual exhaustive homework with the help of watch captain Tony Mutter, who has special insight having lived nearby.
“Let’s hope if we are behind it is as fluky as hell and if we are ahead let’s hope for a straight shot in,’’ Read said.
“It is very frustrating to go from a dominant position to a spot where you are fighting for your life.”
In fourth place CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand are expecting to gain some miles on the top three, using their position in the south, near Groupama, to their advantage.
“We should have a better angle set up down south. That is yet to play out but it seems a strong possibility," skipper Chris Nicholson said.
“We are concentrating on maximising the boat speed and will be sailing flat out to the finish. To be honest, though, that is just business as usual and it’s how we have gone around the world.”
Team Sanya are in fifth place, holding a narrow lead of about seven nm over Team Telefónica in sixth.
The first team is expected to cross the finish line at 2200 UTC. A maximum 30 points is up for grabs for the winner, which could prove vital with just 14points separating the top four teams.
Currently, Team Telefónica are on top of the overall race leaderboard with 165 points, followed by Groupama, 158, CAMPER, 152, PUMA, 151, Abu Dhabi, 74, and Team Sanya, 27.
Volvo Ocean Race
May 31, 2012 - 1300 UTC