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GROUPAMA SURGE ON RACE TO THE AZORES

11June2012_Volvo_Ocean_CamperPhoto by Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ

11-June-2012. Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA), who snatched the overall race lead from Telefónica after finishing second on the transatlantic leg from Miami to Lisbon, entered the Leg 8 reckoning in a menacing third place this morning at 0500 UTC as the fleet raced towards a high pressure zone hovering around the Azores, just shy of 600 nautical miles ahead.

The first night of the leg from Lisbon to Lorient in France produced plenty of variety at the top of the leg leaderboard as PUMA (Ken Read/USA), then Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker/GBR) and finally Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) all took turns to lead the fleet towards the Azores at a steady 18-20 knots.

Bunched tightly in the middle of the race track are Team Telefónica, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and Groupama sailing team. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) are following the same course, but are struggling to keep pace with the leading three boats who are all from the board of Argentine designer Juan Kouyoumdjian. Three miles to windward are Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, while Mike Sanderson/NZL has taken Team Sanya 10 nm to leeward.

According to Stu Bannatyne, CAMPER’s co-skipper and watch leader, there is a pretty high chance that his team will be within eyesight of at least one other boat for the entire 1,950 nm leg to Lorient. “There aren’t that many options in terms of routing to get us to the Azores,” he explained as the team continued to fight for every boat length.

Ken Read and his men on board PUMA's Mar Mostro have not been off the podium since they finished second in the Sanya Haitang Bay in-port race. A serious contender for overall honours, the team are trying not to enter the ‘how many points to whom’ game. “It would be easy to do this because in an ocean race covering isn’t always an option, and thinking that way is more distracting than anything else,” remarked Media Crew Member Amory Ross. “The rational thing to do is to sail the boat as fast we know how, be tactically aggressive while minimising the risks, and hope for success."

As the teams approach the expected high-pressure slow-up around the Azores, it is likely that the fleet will compress, giving CAMPER an opportunity to get back in the mix. “The realistic objective is to arrive in ‘coo-ee’ of the others at the turning mark, then set up for what is now looking like some very heavy downwind running to reel them in again,” said CAMPER’s MCM Hamish Hooper.

At 0700 GMT today, the fleet was split by just short of 20 nm from Telefónica in first place, to Sanya in sixth, with 260 nm covered since the start from Lisbon at 1200 UTC on Sunday.