Thursday, May 31, 2012

After Midnight, That's When Groupama Are Going To Let It All Hang Out - Groupama Update

Free of the high pressure offshore of Portugal, Groupama 4 has her sights on the finish line in front of the Belem Tower, just a few miles shy of the Emirati leader. The results of this final sprint in a good northerly breeze should be decided in the Tagus River at nightfall. Victory is still possible and second place is highly probable.
Photo: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
Midway through the afternoon this Thursday, there was barely a hundred miles left to separate Abu Dhabi, which has been leading this transatlantic sprint for the past five days, and Groupama 4, which made a spectacular comeback to the North of the Azores. The first to enter a zone of light airs, which was being dished up between the Atlantic archipelago and the Iberian peninsula, Ian Walker and his crew opted for a passage level with Porto, whilst Franck Cammas and his men preferred to position themselves fifty miles further South, so as to aim straight for Lisbon. The two VO-70s escaped the clutches of the system shortly after sunrise, with a slight edge on the American boat.

Better Angle Of Attack
Photo: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
Behind them, the chasing pack benefited from this nocturnal stalling to catch up a number of miles and at one stage the whole fleet were scattered across the race zone within just thirty miles of each other in relation to distance to the finish. As such, everything could have been turned on its head by this important wind shift from the South to the North. Fortunately, the hierarchy didn't really alter, aside from the fact that the New Zealanders saw the Spanish pass to the South of them, before they had a chance to make up the deficit further down the track...
Photo: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
At around 0700 hours this Thursday, Abu Dhabi finally reaped the rewards of its northerly option by powering up and out of the zone of calms under spinnaker. After that it was Groupama 4's turn to latch onto the northerly winds with a deficit of around fifteen miles on the leader. Between the duo, Puma was still dragging her heels in fickle breeze. Meantime, in the wake of the French boat, Camper and Telefonica were struggling to extract themselves from the high pressure trap. At that stage in the game, there were just 200 miles to go, which is when the importance of the North-South separation and the crews' ability to slip along to the finish line kicked in. Franck Cammas and his men broke through into a northerly reaching wind of around twenty knots, whilst Ian Walker and his crew had to bear away 20° further to dive down towards the entrance to the Tagus River.

Landfall By Night
Photo: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
Making an average speed of close to twenty knots in a wind which is gradually easing the closer they get to the coast, the frontrunners are expected to reach Lisbon at between 2100 and 0100 UTC. With around ten miles between them at 1400 hours UTC, uncertainty still reigns over who will be best placed to be the first to enter the Portuguese channel. Groupama 4 has the advantage of making her approach via the South, whilst Abu Dhabi's ability to make headway may be more disrupted by the wind shadow of Cascais. The wind files for the river are indicating that the grand finale of this leg will be extremely close: a mass of cloud will invade Lisbon early tonight, with more erratic breezes as the fleet attack the last fifteen miles of the course. As such, it is impossible to say whether or not the Emirati boat will be able to contain a comeback by the French boat...

If everything pans out as it should, the deltas are likely to be sufficient for these two crews not be too worried by the Americans, who have been relegated to over 30 miles back (with only 100 miles left to go). However, they themselves have a lead of some twenty miles or so over Camper, whilst the New Zealanders are being pressured by the Spanish. If the present hierarchy is respected (with Groupama 4 finishing 1st or 2nd into Lisbon), it will have been a superb leg for the French crew, who will move up into first place in the overall standing ahead of the Iberians, whilst also getting a little further away from the menace of the Americans and Kiwis!

Overall standing on leaving Miami

1-Telefonica (Iker Martinez) : 1+30+6+29+2+27+6+20+1+25+2+15+1 = 165 points
2-Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas) : 2+20+2+18+5+24+2+30+4+20+6+20+5 = 158 points
3-Camper (Chris Nicholson) : 4+25+5+24+4+18+3+15+6+15+5+25+3 = 152 points
4-Puma (Ken Read) : 5+0+4+19+3+17+5+25+5+30+4+30+4 = 151 points
5-Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) : 6+0+3+10+6+14+4+10+2+0+3+10+6 = 74 points
6-Sanya (Mike Sanderson) : 3+0+1+5+2+5+1+5+3+0+0+0+2 = 27 points

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