ASSA remarkable finish...

ASSA ABLOY snatch victory from illbruck

Wednesday March 27th 2002, Author: John Greenland, Location: United States
At 00:49:57 local time (05:49:57 GMT) Neal McDonald's ASSA ABLOY sliced through the Miami finish line to snatch first place from John Kostecki's illbruck Challenge on leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race.

In light winds the two boats battled hard for the lead. Both boats dived south into shallow waters to avoid the strong northeast bound Gulf Stream current. As nightfall drew in the wind switched off. By 2300 the wind was practically nonexistent, and what breeze there was it was shifting to the left making the job of calling tactics difficult to say the least.

For a time both boats were actually logged as drifting further away from the finish rather than closer. At one point there was an outside chance Kevin Shoebridge's Team Tyco had a shot at first place, however this was soon put to rest when McDonald's boys picked up a building offshore thermal wind and picked up to 7-10 knots of boat speed.

Under a brilliant full moon, it's reflection lighting up the finishing area, ASSA ABLOY fast approached the line situated two miles offshore. Sailing with her enormous Code Zero she looked well balanced, suited to the light winds and flat seas. With McDonald at the helm, navigator Mark Rudiger sighting the finish from the mast, and tactician Chris Larson calling the shots the team looked calm. Looking along the deck the barefooted crewmen showed more emotion, there job was done, it was the role of the afterguard to see the boat across the line. Magnus Olsson, a veteran of the fleet, was the first to show his happiness when he thrust both arms as the team crossed the finish. It certainly makes you wonder how potent the team could have been early on had the current team hierarchy been set from the start.

Just 24 hour hours ago the German team were again looking unbeatable. Though there lead had been narrowed the distance to then second placed ASSA ABLOY never dropped below 15nm. However, after news the team had blown out their light wind masthead gennaker it became there was a boat speed issue. In a matter of hours the Swedish entry closed to less than a mile of the lead - a 140nm match race ensued with neither boat giving an inch.

The two boats took turns to lead into the finish, with illbruck holding the inside line, but ASSA ABLOY sustaining a higher average speed. Victory was seized from illbruck less than 50nm from the finish and, bar just one brief occasion, never given back. illbruck Challenge had held the lead for the majority of the 4,550nm leg only to lose the advantage in final hour of racing. Eventually illbruck finished an hour behind McDonald's team, 01:51:52 local time, having been caught under a cloud with no breeze. Second place, first place, it makes little difference to illbruck's overall reign, but it's the point - to race to hard and so far only to lose the lead just short of the finish is devastating.

Team Tyco crossed the line just 12.5 minutes behind illbruck having whittled down the 10nm deficit to just a mile during the last three hours of racing. The team had sailed well. It was Tyco leading the fleet prior to illbruck assuming the top spot. Unfortunately just three days out from the finish the team were left underneath a cloud while ASSA ABLOY and illbruck sailed off into the distance. Though they came close the team never managed to recover the lost miles.

Yet again several key places have been decided just moments from the finish. What if illbruck had won - then they would be two points further ahead. What if Tyco had come second ahead of illbruck - then the German team would be an additional point down on ASSA, marginally closing the gap. Perhaps this has just delayed the inevitable by an additional leg. illbruck continues to hold an eight point lead over the fleet, if they can extend this by just four points between now and La Rochelle the event is practically sewn up. It would require her nearest rival to finish seven places ahead of her on the final two legs. Even now ASSA ABLOY must finish an average of two places ahead across all four remaining legs to have a chance of winning overall. Do you think this can be done?

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