Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Groupama Get Into A Roland Garros Groove - Volvo Ocean Race - Groupama Team Update

Pushed along by a front, which is moving almost as fast as the fleet, the crews are devouring the miles to such an extent that this seventh leg should see some 24-hour distance records being set. Franck Cammas and his men have switched to attack mode in these conditions, which they're particularly fond of, gaining two places in a single day. However, less than 900 miles from Lisbon, there's still everything to play for as there is a zone of calms to be traversed.
Photo: Yann Roui/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
After the setback on exiting the tropical storm, when Groupama 4 stuck her neck out to try to stick with a front which escaped her clutches, Franck Cammas and his men are making a superb `drive' offshore of the Azores. Playing a `baseline' game with the Spanish just 24 hours ago, the French boat, which is particularly fond of this playing surface (flat seas, reaching wind, a good 20-25 knots of breeze), performed a `smash' at the edge of the tramlines, taking third place from the New Zealanders and now distancing herself from Telefonica by nearly twelve miles. However, the outcome of the match isn't likely to be decided until the final set...

Drop Shot In The Final Game
Photo: Yann Roui/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
For the past 36 hours, the fleet has given some rhythm to this Miami-Lisbon Open thanks to the arrival of a front, which is propelling everyone along at a blistering pace across the Atlantic. Leading as they exited the zone of high pressure off Newfoundland, Abu Dhabi is gradually losing points, as she's not benefiting from such a steady breeze as her rivals. Indeed, in a little over a day, the Emirati leader has conceded over fifty miles to the chasing pack... On this long drive, it's Groupama 4 which is proving to be the fastest, covering 532 miles over the past 24 hours, thus beating her best time in the fourth leg (522 miles).
Photo: Yann Roui/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
However, recent performance is going to be important for the `slice': the front which is pushing the fleet towards the finish, appears to be slightly faster than the VO-70s and the first to realise that they won't be able to avoid the patch of light airs and the subsequent westerly wind shift behind this barrier of cloud is the crew of the Chinese boat. Indeed Sanya has already been forced to slip along towards the North-East so as she can gybe as the wind shifts round. Her two predecessors (Camper and Telefonica) are also on the edge of the front, which is why the crews of Groupama 4 and Puma are pushing their machines along at full tilt. "Advantage" Abu Dhabi, who is a "set" ahead and has little chance of being swallowed up. However, the match is far from over: the front will shift eastwards for a further 24 hours, before stumbling into the "net" in the form of a ridge of high pressure across the court, less than 300 miles from Lisbon.

A Decisive Game For Victory
Photo: Yann Roui/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
Within the next thirty hours or so, the speeds will gradually drop off once the leaders enter the high pressure, which is stretching down from Ireland to the Canaries: there will be a compression of the fleet, at least that will be the case for those which are aren't devoured by the front. The separation between the boats should only be a matter of a few miles, with play centring around the latitude of Porto, where the calm conditions seem to be the narrowest. It's on Wednesday afternoon that a couple of questions will come to the fore: what kind of lead will the leader have over her pursuers in this windless zone and will all the fleet opt for the same `service court'?
Photo: Yann Roui/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race
As such it's going to come down to a `tie-break' to separate the play once they climb up to the `net' of high pressure off Portugal. Importantly, it may be possible to `lob' over the leader, if they get stuck in a wind hole! However, clearly leading as they attack this final obstacle will be an advantage and it's preferable to be tied on points for this decisive game. Uncertainty will reign then as the player which manages to hook onto a little additional gust will be in a favourable position for the final `volley': behind these calm conditions, the northerly wind is settled nicely in place (20 knots) and on this final service, an `ace' is virtually assured.

Position of the competitors in the Volvo Ocean Race on the seventh leg from Miami - Lisbon at 1300 UTC on 29/05/2012

1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing - 817.0 miles from the finish
2. Puma - 32.0 miles astern of the leader
3. Groupama 4 - 46.8 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper - 55.2 miles astern of the leader
5. Telefonica - 57.3 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya - 70.8 miles astern of the leader

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