Team Telefónica secured overall victory in Leg 2 with a strong second place but there was joy too for Groupama sailing team on Wednesday as they notched their first win of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, snatching top spot ahead of their rivals in the dying moments of the sprint into Abu Dhabi.
The French challengers closed the gap with Telefónica to two boat lengths within 20 nautical miles of the finish during the fast-paced 98nm drag race from the Sharjah coastline, before clinching the lead with slick manoeuvres at the final mark rounding.
Despite racing with a cracked hull, which the sailors attempted to fix before racing resumed, Franck Cammas’ men surged to victory in a 20 knot northwest breeze and big swell at 12:22:09 UTC, finishing just 52 seconds ahead of Telefónica.
“We were very fast today,” Cammas said. “This morning we were a little worried about the repair. Now, I think we were so fast we will leave it.”
A crowd of thousands lined the Abu Dhabi race village waterside in the late afternoon sunshine and welcomed in the boats after the thrilling race at sea.
All the boats were accompanied into the port by the traditional dhow boats.
Groupama scored six points to add to the 12 they scored for finishing fourth in Stage 1 of the leg that was split in to two stages by race organisers because of the increasing threat of pirates. The French team remain third on the overall leaderboard with 42 points and Telefónica hold poll position with 66 points.
Telefónica’s skipper Iker Martínez remained buoyant despite defeat having stretched his lead at the top and commended Groupama for their hard fought victory.
“We can’t be disappointed, we still have an advantage overall,’’ he said. “We sailed well, Groupama sailed very well and at the end they sailed better than us. All we can say is congratulations to the Groupama guys; this is their first victory so we are happy for them.”
CAMPER finished in third place at 12:27:48 UTC to pick up four points, followed by PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG at 1228:38, who score three points.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing nabbed two points for finishing fifth at 12:32:21 UTC at their home port – – the race’s first Middle Eastern stopover.
CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson said his team were unsatisfied by their result, before describing Stage 2 as the “longest short race I’ve ever done’’.
“It was a disappointing result,” he said. “In this race we don’t really feel like we’ve hit our straps yet. Courses like today’s don’t really seem to suit us but we know we have strengths in other areas and we know we’ll come good when we get those conditions.”
Arriving at a port packed with hundreds of cheering spectators and a fireworks reception created a warm homecoming for the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team, skipper Ian Walker said.
“This obviously wasn’t the result we wanted but we had a very tough time to get here,’’ Walker said. “We broke the mast and at that point it didn’t look we would get to Abu Dhabi. To arrive to this amazing reception is just fantastic.”
Abu Dhabi crewmember Adil Khalid, the first ever Emirati to compete in the race, added: “It’s a great day for Abu Dhabi and a great day for me. It’s amazing to be back home and I can’t believe all the people who have come out here. There’s a long way to go in the race. Today was just not our day. It was very fast out there.”
Leg 2 Stage 2 results*:
1. Groupama sailing team 6 points
2. Team Telefónica 5
3. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 4
4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 3
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 2
Overall Leg 2 results*:
1. Team Telefónica 29 points
2. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 24
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 19
4. Groupama sailing team 18
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 10
Overall leaderboard after Leg 2*:
1. Team Telefónica 66 points
2. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 58
3. Groupama sailing team 42
4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 28
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 19
6. Team Sanya 4*
* Team Sanya will pick up the following points if they complete Leg 2 Stage 1 under race rules: 4 points for Leg 2 Stage 1; 1 point for Leg 2 Stage 2