Groupama sailing team extended their overall lead to eight points with a crucial victory in the Oeiras In-Port Race on Saturday, a result that gives the French team a huge boost as they prepare for the Leg 8 race to their home port of Lorient starting Sunday.
With four teams still vying for victory in what is the closest contest in the 39-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race, Groupama remained cool under pressure to secure the maximum six points and take their overall tally to 189.
With closest challengers Team Telefónica enduring another in-port race day to forget — they were forced to do a penalty turn, saw a sail dumped in the water and finished last — Groupama’s lead jumped from three points to eight.
It was a fourth successive bottom-placed finish in an in-port race for Telefónica, who paid a hefty price for an aggressive rule infringement just after the start of the 11.6 nautical mile course.
PUMA finished second, taking their overall score to 176 points and breaking the three-way tie at the top of the in-port race series standings.
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand were third across the line, scoring four points, followed by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, with three points, Team Sanya with two and Telefónica in last, claiming just one point.
“This is a good moment for us,” Cammas said. “It’s above what we expected at the start in Alicante so we’re going to enjoy it. We will try to do the best possible and will just see what happens in the next leg, but for sure we are going to enjoy this moment.”
With so much at stake the atmosphere was tense from well before the start-gun and as soon as it fired Telefónica and PUMA were engaged in an aggressive downwind match-racing style battle.
The Spanish team came off second best after the umpires ruled they had infringed on the Americans and ordered a penalty turn within one minute of the start.
As Iker Martínez’s crew fell to last place, a far too familiar in-port position for the former race leaders, the fleet took off in about 16 knots of southwest wind in flat seas powered by massive spinnakers.
The lead changed three times during the first of the four legs before Groupama rounded the top mark in first place just seven seconds ahead of CAMPER, 18 seconds ahead of Abu Dhabi, followed by PUMA, Sanya and Telefónica.
Groupama continued to lead while PUMA edged into second place ahead of CAMPER, followed by Abu Dhabi, Sanya and Telefónica as the fleet rounded the second mark, where the course was shortened.
Telefónica’s woes continued in the third leg when their masthead halyard broke, unexpectedly dumping their spinnaker into the water, while Sanya intentionally dumped theirs overboard after their halyard failed to unlock from the mast.
The positions, however, remained unchanged with Groupama cruising to their second in-port victory, finishing 22 seconds ahead of PUMA.
PUMA skipper Ken Read joked that race organisers should start charging admission for such hotly contested conditions.
“Groupama aren’t showing too many chinks in their armour right now,” Read said. “They’re sailing very, very well and had a great start. We’ve got to get a little bit better but we’re getting there.
“But Groupama are not going to be feeling very secure up there, they know there’s a lot of racing left. There’s still a couple of guys crawling around where we are too, so we need to just keep doing well, keep doing the right thing, and hopefully good things will happen.”
The sailors and shore crews are now turning their attention to the final preparations to the 1,940 nautical mile Leg 8 race from Lisbon to Lorient, France starting on Sunday.
At 1300 local, 1200 UTC, the fleet will head out into the North Atlantic where they will have to negotiate the temperamental Azores High before rounding São Miguel island and heading back towards the coast of Brittany. The fleet is expected to finish on or around June 17.
With the finish of the nine-months ocean race just one month away and just 23 points separating the top four teams the race is set to go down to the wire.
The teams have just two short legs and two inshore races remaining to pick up vital points, setting the stage for an intense and thrilling battle.
Each of the offshore legs offers 30 points to the winner, 25 for second, 20 for third, 15 for fourth, 10 for fifth and five for sixth. The hour-long in-port races score at 20 percent of that rate – six points for first, five for second and so on down to a single point for sixth.
Oeiras In-Port Race results:
1st, Groupama sailing team: 6 points, 61:22
2nd, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG: 5 points, 61:44
3rd, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand: 4 points, 62:30
4th, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing: 3 points, 63:08
5th, Team Sanya: 2 points, 64:50
6th, Team Telefónica: 1 point, 65:39