Team Telefónica secured overall victory in Leg 2 with a strong second place but there was joy too for Groupama sailing team last night as they notched their first win of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, snatching top spot ahead of their rivals in the dying moments of the sprint into Abu Dhabi.
Franck Cammas’ men edged past Telefónica with just over 10 nautical miles to go to the Abu Dhabi finish line, claiming victory in the 98-nautical mile sprint from the northern United Arab Emirates by just 52 seconds to take a maximum six points.
Their victory came despite the fact that six of their sailors had to carry out a repair job on hull damage sustained in the first part of the leg.
Telefónica, the overall race leaders, are the Leg 2 winners with 29 points following their first place in Stage 1 from Cape Town to the undisclosed ‘safe haven’ in the Indian Ocean. That finished on December 26 with a thrilling head-to-head between Telefónica and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand.
Telefónica lead the overall standings with 66 points followed by CAMPER on 58 after they finished third in Wednesday’s sprint stage to clinch second place overall in Leg 2. Groupama remain in third overall on 42 points.
“We were very fast today,” said Cammas, who saw his team home to victory at 12h22’09” UTC. “This morning we were a little worried about the repair. Now, I think we were so fast we will leave it. It was a very good day for us, good for our confidence. It doesn’t give a lot of points but it is an important win.”
Groupama watch captain Thomas Coville added: “It was a fabulous fight until the end. For me, that's what the Volvo Ocean Race is: never give up! We had a great confrontation in amazing conditions.”
CAMPER picked up the final podium position in Leg 2 Stage 2 to score four points finishing at 12h27’48” UTC, 50 seconds ahead of PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG. PUMA’s position to seals third place overall in Leg 2. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were fifth, crossing the line at 12h32’21” UTC.
Skippered by Spanish Olympic gold medallist Iker Martínez, Telefónica led the second stage of Leg 2 from the northern United Arab Emirates to Abu Dhabi from the start, but were unable to hold off the attack from Groupama.
Within 20 miles of the finish, Cammas’ men drew neck and neck with Telefónica as the pair battled it out in choppy seas and winds of 15 to 25 knots. A sloppy rounding of the final turning mark gave Groupama their opportunity to pounce – and they did, snatching the lead with just over 10 nautical miles to go and ending Telefónica’s winning streak of three consecutive victories.
While Telefónica were left licking their wounds at their narrow defeat, they can take some comfort in extending their lead overall to eight points.
“We can’t be disappointed, we still have an advantage overall,” said Martínez. “We sailed well, but Groupama sailed very well and at the end they sailed better than us. All we can say is congratulations to the Groupama guys, this is their first victory so we are happy for them.”
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker, speaking just before a firework reception for them and the other teams, said: “This obviously wasn't the result we wanted but we had a very tough time to get here. We broke the mast and at that point it didn't look we would get to Abu Dhabi. To arrive to this amazing reception is just fantastic.”
Abu Dhabi crewmember Adil Khalid, the first ever Emirati to compete in the race, added: “It’s a great day for Abu Dhabi and a great day for me. It's amazing to be back home and I can't believe all the people who have come out here. There's a long way to go in the race. Today was just not our day. It was very fast out there.”
As a safety measure to deter piracy, race organisers split the second leg into two stages. After racing the safe haven port, the boats were loaded onto a ship and transported through the worst affected waters to the northern United Arab Emirates.
They were then unloaded with racing resuming with a 98 nautical mile sprint into Abu Dhabi, the first time the race has visited the Middle East in its 38-year history.
Team Sanya, the sixth team in this edition of the race, are currently in Madagascar making repairs to their rig, which failed on the ninth day of the first stage of Leg 2 while they were leading. Once the rig is repaired the team will race to the safe haven port where they will meet the fleet for the second stage of Leg 3.
The fleet will return to action on January 13 with the Etihad Airways In-Port Race with Leg 3, from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, starting on January 14.
Overall leaderboard after Leg 2*:
1. Team Telefónica 66 points
2. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 58
3. Groupama sailing team 42
4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 28
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 19
6. Team Sanya 4*
* Team Sanya will pick up the following points if they complete Leg 2 Stage 1 under race rules: 4 points for Leg 2 Stage 1; 1 point for Leg 2 Stage 2