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Friday, March 16, 2012

Kiwis Ready To Smoke The Southern Ocean

The six boats in the Volvo Ocean Race face their biggest inshore challenge on Saturday when a huge spectator fleet will cram into the harbour to see if home heroes CAMPER can gain a longed-for victory in the Auckland In-Port Race (1400 local time, 0100 UTC).

Hundreds of spectator boats are expected, while thousands of fans will watch from the Race Village as Telefónica and Abu Dhabi resume their battle for inshore supremacy, with the two teams having won all four of the previous races in the series between them.

There would be no better time or place for CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand to break that sequence.

“It’s a massive race,” said skipper Chris Nicholson, whose Spanish-sponsored CAMPER team count Auckland as one of their two home ports. “It’s such a big one for us here.

"If the welcome we received back in on Sunday is an indication it should be a huge day all round and the racecourse looks great."

Despite finishing third in Leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland, Team Telefónica retain an 18-point lead at the top as the race nears its half-way point and they will start as favourites, despite being the only team not to benefit from local knowledge from a Kiwi crew member.

“For sure it's good to have local knowledge for the in-port races and it will be good for the other teams to have Kiwis on board,” said skipper Iker Martínez.

“But we try to learn and we hope to have a good race. For sure it is an advantage for them but we are going to try our best."
Groupama sailing team are up to second after becoming the first team apart from Telefónica to win an offshore leg, though they could slip back to third if CAMPER win and the French team come sixth.

"I think we are moving in the right direction," said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. "We have a lot of work still to do in inshore, but we are confident."

Race organisers have set a course littered with challenges in Waitemata Harbour, including submerged rocks, wind shadows, a strong tide and four turning marks.

There are two course options, with the first staying inside the harbour for light breezes and the second taking the boats out to Rough Rock if the breeze is heavier. With winds of up to 20 knots forecast, the six Volvo Open 70s will be able to stretch their legs over the 60 minutes of the race.

Although they finished fifth in Leg 4, and missed the Pro-Am race to carry out work on their rigging, in-port wins in Alicante and Abu Dhabi will see Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team hit the water with confidence.

“It’s flat water out in the harbour, which I think our boat thrives on,” Walker said. “To date we’re probably the top boat inshore so we’re looking forward to trying to get another in-port race win.”

The crowd will also be cheering for Mike Sanderson, the Auckland-born skipper of China’s Team Sanya.

Sanderson’s team are the only ones racing in a second-hand boat, meaning overall victory was never on the cards, but they do hope to make it on to the podium before the end of the race and they were given a great boost when they won Friday’s non-scoring Pro-Am racing for guests.

“We saw twice as many spectator boats out today than we’ve seen so I think the guys who have never experienced a Volvo in Auckland are in for a big shock tomorrow,” said Sanderson.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, in fourth place overall and basking in their second-place from Leg 4, should have Olympic gold medallist Thomas Johanson on board for the first time, with the Finn coming in for Leg 5 as a temporary replacement for Kelvin Harrap.

Volvo Ocean Race Media

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