Published on Saturday, 21 April 2012 04:44
Written by Jaabir
20 April 2012
Five battle-weary teams return to the racetrack for Saturday's DHL In-Port Race Itajaí and points have never appeared so precious, with Telefónica, Groupama, CAMPER and PUMA locked in a four-way tussle for overall victory and Abu Dhabi determined to come out on top in the inshore series.
PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race
Team Telefónica have a 20-point lead in the overall standings but with 30 points on offer to the winners of each of the remaining four offshore legs, and six points for the winners of five more in-port races, that advantage is far from secure.
Groupama sailing team are their closest challengers but CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (28 points behind the leaders) and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (34 points behind) are also within striking distance in a race that has fulfilled the expectations of those who said it would be too close to call.
Abu Dhabi, who were forced to ship their boat to Itajaí after sustaining structural damage on Leg 5, have reluctantly accepted that their prime goal is no longer overall victory but with two wins from the first five in-port races they have every reason to be optimistic about their chances on Saturday.
The course for the DHL In-Port Race Itajaí has been set up close to shore to give then tens of thousands of fans expected to pack the Race Village and line the river banks an incredible view, even if early forecasts are for heavy rain and light, shifting winds.
The Leg 5 blast through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn to itajaí was an exhausting trial for everyone, with PUMA the only team to make it to the finish line without being forced to stop for repairs.
Telefónica had to make a pit stop at Cape Horn before finishing, Groupama lost their mast within touching distance of a second successive leg victory, and CAMPER and Abu Dhabi were forced into Puerto Montt in Chile.
PUMA's victory, their first of the campaign, followed three consecutive second places and confirmed that they are right back in the hunt for overall victory.
"When the gun goes we'll be out there trying to beat everyone," said PUMA navigator Tom Addis.
"But this inshore is going to give us quite a mixed up breeze, up and down, left and right, and in those conditions anyone can win."
PUMA are boosted by the return of their inshore tactician Kelvin Harrap, who has recovered from injury to replace his Leg 5 stand-in Thomas Johanson.
Like Abu Dhabi, Telefónica have two victories under their belts in the in-port race series but they have finished last in the other three.
“The shore crew did great work to get the boat ready early so we could do three days of training while some of the other teams are rushing to be ready," said trimmer Xabi Fernández. "We have improved a lot and we are fully ready to go on Saturday and I really hope we have a good in-port race.
"We always think that to be in a podium position in the in-port race is important but up to now we have either won or been last. This time we will really fight for the podium."
Groupama are the only one of the top four teams not to have won an in-port race as yet but bowman Brad Marsh said they had confidence in their new rig and were looking forward to a return to competition.
"As a team the problem with the rig helped us get stronger," said the New Zealander. "We lost a few points but we feel we still have the confidence and the momentum with us."
CAMPER took their first in-port win in Auckland, to the rousing cheers of their home fans, and the team are eager for more of the same after their hopes of a Leg 5 victory were dashed by the serious structural damage they took in the Southern Ocean.
They only arrived in Itajaí to take fourth place on Tuesday, more than 10 days after Telefónica, but helmsman/trimmer Tony Rae promised it would be business as usual on Saturday.
"We had to nail the in-port race in Auckland -- we didn't have a choice," Rae said. "It was a pretty special day to pull that off and make it happen. It would be awesome to have another race like that here and get a few more points on the board. It's a matter of getting a good start, getting off the line well and going from there.
"We've slotted straight back into our routine here and we're switching straight back to racing mode again."
Abu Dhabi face a race against time just to be ready for Saturday's race after their boat, still in need of repair, was delivered to Itajaí on Thursday.
The shore crew have refined their repair plan, which had been due to take 72 hours, meaning they stand a good chance of making the race and pursuing their new goal of taking the honorary prize for the best record in the in-port race series.
"When we started off on this campaign we had a goal to get in the top three which we knew would be tough given when we started," skipper Ian Walker said. "Now we have had to re-set that goal and say, let’s try and win the in-port series, let’s see if we can win a leg.
"We really want to be out there for the in-port race here. It’s something we are good at. We have won two of them and we really enjoy the sailing so we will be doing everything possible to make it to the start line."
Three of the teams took part in a low-key technical practice race on Thursday. After the scheduled practice starts, Telefónica went on to cross the finish line first, followed by Groupama with PUMA deciding not to complete. CAMPER went back in the water on Thursday and the team should be back sailing on Friday.
||Groupama sailing team
||CAMPER with Emirates Team NZ
||PUMA Ocean Racing by BERG
||Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing